By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
Motorsports Tribune reviews the season of the top 12 drivers from the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Our list continues with the second-place finisher, Alexander Rossi.
Alexander Rossi, No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda
- 2018: 2nd in the championship
- Wins: 3, Top 5: 10, Top 10: 14, Poles: 3, Laps Led: 415
- Best Finish: 1st (Long Beach, Mid-Ohio, Pocono)
Alexander Rossi’s 2018 IndyCar season can best be described as a roller coaster ride.
From an incident in St. Petersburg, to a comeback in Phoenix, to a trio of dominating wins and a charge at Indianapolis, few other drivers had as explosive of a season as the driver of the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for Andretti Autosport.
At St. Petersburg, Rossi was in second place heading to a late race restart when he got a good run on leader Robert Wickens. Rossi made a daring move to the inside but lost control of his car on the painted airport runway lines and slid into Wickens, drawing the Canadian’s ire and understanding from several colleagues that would’ve made the same move in his position.
At Phoenix, Rossi copped a drive-thru penalty for hitting his left front tire changer early in the race but put on an absolute passing clinic on the one mile oval. Coming from two laps down, the Californian ended up finishing third behind winner Josef Newgarden and his previous nemesis Wickens.
After Phoenix came Long Beach and the first win on a street circuit for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion. Rossi dominated the whole weekend, setting pole by three-and-a-half tenths of a second and leading 71 out of 85 laps.
A less than stellar race at Barber Motorsports Park and a fifth place finish at the INDYCAR Grand Prix then set up one of the more memorable drives of the 2018 IndyCar season at the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
Rossi started 32nd after a tire slowly deflated during his qualifying run on Pole Day. During the several restarts on race day, Rossi’s car seemed to defy the laws of physics as its driver placed his car in spaces few, if any, would dare to venture into. At one point, Rossi passed five cars (driven by Scott Dixon, Sage Karam, Marco Andretti, Spencer Pigot and Max Chilton) all on the outside on a restart and cleared Chilton before he even got to the backstretch.
After starting in the last row, Rossi ended up finishing a very respectable fourth. Next up was Detroit and in the second race of the weekend, Rossi was leading late in the going but locked up his tires badly while under pressure from teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. The resulting pit stop needed for a flat tire dropped him to 12th place. More damaging than that, it dropped Rossi from the points lead that he briefly held a few times during the early part of the season.
Texas gave Rossi a third-place finish but camber shims falling out of the left front of his car at Road America put him down in 16th place. The next race at Iowa gave Rossi his only non lead-lap finish of the year in ninth place, two laps down. Those two laps were the only two laps he failed to complete all season long.
Following Toronto, Rossi clicked off two dominant wins at Mid-Ohio and at Pocono Raceway, both quite notable. Mid-Ohio’s race has Honda sponsorship and Rossi was the first Honda driver to win at Mid-Ohio since Graham Rahal in 2015. After Wickens’s accident at Pocono, Rossi dominated the rest of the race to further cut into Dixon’s championship lead.
After a runner-up finish (with a massive save) at Gateway ahead of Dixon in third, a lost gamble on a pit stop under yellow dropped Rossi to eighth place at Portland behind Dixon who finished fifth.
So it all came down to Sonoma and Rossi had a mountain to climb after early contact in the race. Despite climbing through the field, Rossi was unable to beat Dixon to the title and ended up second, just 57 points behind Dixon.
Rossi will be a title contender in 2019. His virtuoso performances at Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Pocono plus his comeback drive at Indianapolis indicate the caliber of driver Andretti Autosport has. Let’s hope Rossi shows more of that next season.