SALINAS, Calif – Alexander Rossi had a plan coming into the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season. He wanted to win the Indianapolis 500 and win the season championship. But, in order to accomplish the title part, he knew that he had to at least stay steady from 2018 and make himself closer to contention heading into the season finale than he was last year.
At this point in 2018, Rossi had three wins, 10 top five finishes, 13 top 10’s, three poles and 415 laps led. He went to Sonoma 29 points behind Scott Dixon for the championship lead.
This year, he’s had two wins, 11 top fives, 13 top 10’s, two poles and 182 laps led. All very similar numbers. Instead, he’s 41 points arrears to Josef Newgarden heading into the season finale.
Despite that, Rossi has no regrets for how this season has gone. In fact, he thinks that its just been a few races of bad luck that has put him in the position that he’s in heading into Sunday’s season finale.
“I think there was a lot of realization that we left a lot of points on the board in 2018 kind of through our own undoing, whether it was a missed strategy call, a failure, Road America, my mistake in Detroit,” Rossi said on Wednesday. “We can look back and really highlight three or four areas where just silly mistakes cost us.
“I think we haven’t had any silly mistakes this year. We were just on the wrong side of a yellow in St. Louis. Came up a little bit short in Indy. I mean, got taken out in Pocono. I think we’ve done everything right from our standpoint.
“I think we improved on tracks where we struggled in the past. I think, if anything, we maybe cost ourselves a little bit in some certain areas this year with being too conservative in a sense, just trying not to repeat the same mistakes at last year.
“It’s always easy to Monday morning quarterback it. We’re in the football season now, right? Who knows if we had been more aggressive at certain races if it actually would have played out, right? It’s impossible to say. But I think if we look at where we were last year compared to where we are this year, we’re ahead.
“So yeah, I mean, I think it’s the fact that Josef (Newgarden) has had a sensational year. Unfortunately that’s been a little bit better than ours. However, we have the full intention of taking that away from him in the last race, just like old Scott (Dixon) did to JPM in 2018.
“I just think the 2 (Newgarden) car has had a slightly better season for one reason or another. I think we’ve made a lot of improvements on some areas where we struggled last year as a team. When we came up with the plan of how we were going to attack 2019, I think we’ve done a fairly good job. Some things have been out of our control. But such is life in the sport.
“We have some semblance of an opportunity, I guess, in Laguna. We’re definitely going to need to have things come our way a little bit. Yeah, who knows.”
Rossi, said that the experience last year helps but they wanted to come to Laguna closer to the points lead than they were last year to Dixon. “We’re farther back” said Rossi.
“Yeah, I mean, it is disappointing. I think we had some bad luck in the second half of the season that cost us pretty dearly. But ultimately it’s things that we can’t change now. So we have an opportunity. If we win the race, which we have to do, I’ve been telling everyone really since May or June, you can’t win this championship on two race wins.
“The motivation and goal has to be to win the race. Because it’s double points, that makes overhauling Josef that much more feasible, right? For me, I go into it with the same exact mindset that I’ve had all year. It’s to show up to the racetrack and try and win.
“I think in a way it’s almost less pressure than if you’re closer, you’re then like nitpicking over positions, right? If he finishes fourth, I have to finish third. If he’s fourth, I have to be fifth, something like that. For me, it’s like, I need to win, period.
“If we do that, then I think we can be pretty content with the challenge that we put up throughout the year. If it’s meant to be, great type of thing.
“For me, yeah, it’s disappointing, kind of the 16 races that we’ve had haven’t gotten is closer. Ultimately in a way it kind of takes the pressure off us going into the final race.”
Rossi has seen the Honda’s look strong so far this weekend, which is the best news of all. It appears that if this race goes in terms of pace, a Honda driver should win. After all, five of the six races on natural road courses this season have been won by a Honda driver.
Plus, Rossi has essentially five drivers trying to help him get the crown. He has all four teammates as well as Colton Herta on his side. Newgarden and Pagenaud only have Will Power while Scott Dixon has just Felix Rosenqvist.
This all bodes well for him on Sunday afternoon.