LONG BEACH, Calif – Last year, Alexander Rossi dominated the NTT IndyCar Series race on the streets of Long Beach. He qualified on the pole in his blue and yellow No. 27 NAPA Honda only to lead 71 of the 85 laps in dominating fashion.
Now, can the Andretti Autosport driver repeat?
Alexander Rossi leads the 2018 Grand Prix of Long Beach – INDYCAR Media Site
See, repeating in Long Beach has grown to a very difficult feat to accomplish. Out of the past seven races, we’ve had a different winner in each. In fact, over the last six years, we’ve seen six different organizations take the checkered flag first.
Can Rossi buck that trend in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network)?
The reason repeating has been so difficult is just the way that this series evolves on a year to year basis. With four different types of circuits to race on, it’s hard to be perfect on all. If you’re good on a street course track, you may lack on a short oval. If you’re good on a short oval, you may lack on the superspeedways.
Organizations put their efforts in places they need to improve upon. If you’ve been good in one area, why put all your eggs in that basket?
Team Penske is a prime example. They knew heading into the 2019 season that they needed to greatly improve their street course program. Over their prior 10 starts, they’ve won just once on them. It was a big area of emphasis for their offseason development.
They came out of the gates and swept the front row on the streets of St. Pete and took two of the three spots on the podium.
Last year, Rossi was so good on street courses. He had three podiums in five tries. But, a few years ago, that wouldn’t have happened. His Andretti Autosport organization spent the few years prior trying to improve in that area. After getting it right, they focused elsewhere.
Did that and Penske’s development make it tough to repeat now?
“That’s a great question but I don’t know if that’s an answer that we totally have yet,” said Rossi. “In 2016, we identified all courses that weren’t superspeedways as problem areas for us. So, going into ’17, we put a lot of time and effort into street courses and that carried over into ’18 and we saw the kind of development we had and the results from that.
“Now this year, the transition has gone to road courses and short ovals. Naturally, there’s going to be an ebb and flow right. You’re never going to be able to be dominant on all the tracks all the time on all the years so it’s just try to figure out your development plan on your weakest areas and for us last year that was on short ovals and road courses.
“For sure teams like Penske and Ganassi are going to close the gap in all areas but you just have to stay on top of it in the others areas if you can.”
See, sometimes you just miss it due to advancement in other areas. But, in order to be a championship contender, it’s how to maximize those days that you “miss it.”
Josef Newgarden for example capitalized on missing it the last two races and finished second and fourth respectively. That’s how championships are won.
Scott Dixon has two runner-ups in three races in 2019. That’s how championships are won. Rossi, says that’s the difference in how he didn’t win the title a year ago.
“The big thing is, as I said before, minimizing the bad days,” said Rossi. “Last year, if we look at us compared to Scott (Dixon), we were pretty much the same across the board except the days where I had a 12th or 15th, he had a 5th or 9th. I think a good example of that was Austin. We got burned by a yellow. We were starting pretty far back on the last restart there. We were able to get up to 9th. Kind of damage limitation some weekends.
“Barber, we’ve never had a fast racecar there. To get away with a top five kind of feels like a win a little bit. It’s all about making the most out of the difficult weekends, then capitalizing on the weekends where you should be strong.
“This weekend certainly is one of those where we need to make sure that we dot all our Is, cross our Ts, make sure we can capitalize on the races where we know we’re going to have a pretty strong performance.”
If Rossi can maintain his street course level of success, then he can notch another key victory to his career. The California native calls his win last year as the second best moment of his racing career.
“It’s pretty high,” Rossi said on where he’s rank last year’s win “It’s definitely second to the (2016 Indy) ‘500. It’s the first race that I won that was like a home race. When I was racing in Europe, racing in Austin (COTA) was like a home race. But, winning there clearly wasn’t going to happen.
“Now, racing over here, every race is like a home nation race I guess but to be able to win a race in California especially being a race that has as much legacy and history as Long Beach does, is great.
“It’s similar to the Indy 500. If you look at the past winners of the Indy 500, a lot of those guys are past winners of Long Beach as well. To be able to be in the same sentences as motorsports legends is pretty awesome.”
“It’s hard. Scott’s the man right. He’s a five time champion. If anyone’s going to be sensational in the second half of the season it’s going to be him. You have to gauge your results and your weekends and how the season is developing off him. If you’re keeping in touch with him passed the midway point, then you’re probably going to look pretty good. He’s definitely the bench mark for all of us and I don’t see that changing any time soon.