By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
Motorsports Tribune reviews the season of the top 10 drivers from the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Our list continues with the seventh-place championship finisher, Alexander Rossi.
Alexander Rossi, No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport Honda
- 2017: 7th in the championship
- Wins: 1, Top 5: 5, Top 10: 10, Poles: 2, Laps Led: 99
- Best Finish: 1st (Watkins Glen International)
If winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 thrust Rossi into the Verizon IndyCar Series spotlight in 2016, then the former Formula One prospect’s 2017 season served as a year of validation.
After spending months brushing off rumors that he would head back to F1 for 2017, Rossi instead returned to Andretti Herta Autosport for a second-straight season of INDYCAR competition.
The Californian’s opening race at St. Petersburg came and went quietly much like it had in his rookie year, with an 11th-place result. But in his second race at Long Beach, Rossi showed much more potential.
After qualifying a strong fifth, Rossi’s Andretti team played the strategy correctly, and the 26-year-old drove a near-flawless race to find himself in contention for the win in the closing laps.
Unfortunately Rossi’s No. 98 failed him just as he was beginning to pose a challenge for the victory. His engine gave out after 62 laps, relegating Rossi to a disappointing 19th-place finish. He could only watch on from the infield as James Hinchcliffe drove off to the win.
While he didn’t find himself in winning contention again, Rossi continued to surge over the early months. He followed his Long Beach disappointment up with a fifth-place run at Barber Motorsports Park. While his trip to Phoenix Raceway ended in a subpar 15th, Rossi followed it up with an eighth-place run in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis to kickstart his Month of May.
Rossi’s send run in the Indianapolis 500 didn’t end in the glory of the first, but he was arguably better performance-wise. While his rookie year had seen a victory on fuel strategy, in the 101st Running Rossi found himself in contention on outright pace. He qualified third, led 23 laps and stayed within sight of the leaders for the majority of the afternoon before finishing in seventh.
His return trip to Indy complete, Rossi spent the rest of the 2017 season as a fringe championship contender as he rattled off a slew of top 10s. He finished seventh or better in seven of the final 11 races, finishing outside of the top 15 only at Texas Motor Speedway (22nd) and in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway (21st).
Along the way Rossi tallied three podiums and, perhaps most importantly, his second-career INDYCAR victory at Watkins Glen International. Throughout the stretch Rossi fell no lower than ninth on the championship table, running consistently in the back half of the top 10 en-route to a seventh-place finish in the standings.
All-told Rossi’s sophomore season was a drastic improvement on the first. He earned his first-career pole, set new career marks for podiums (3), average start (8.6), average finish (9.6) and laps led (99).
Given his growth and success over the course of two full INDYCAR seasons, Rossi would appear poised to improve and contend once again in 2018. But he’ll be tested once more by the new 2018 aerokits and a move from the Bryan Herta Autosport-affiliated No. 98 Honda to the core Andretti Autosport team in 2018.