By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor
DETROIT — It all happened so fast.
One moment Alexander Rossi found himself in the lead, poised to go three-for-three in wins following poles in his young Verizon IndyCar Series career, fending off Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and holding onto the series points lead in the process.
The next moment he was in the Turn 3 runoff area, his race ruined.
“Honestly I have no idea,” Rossi said when asked what happened.
Rossi led a race-high 46 laps in the 70-lap Race 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, stretching out to a near-insurmountable lead and positioning himself to deliver his second IndyCar victory of 2018. But teammate Hunter-Reay’s pace forced the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion to defend the win in the closing stages.
Having started 10th after two spins in qualifying, Hunter-Reay and the No. 28 team elected to let take the more aggressive three-stop strategy in the event. The Floridian delivered the fastest laps of the race, and by virtue of the strategy was able to gain ground on Rossi and his fellow competitors.
Rossi had a 7.6-second advantage over Hunter-Reay after the 2012 IndyCar champion’s final stop on Lap 52, but the gap was quickly erased. Just 10 laps later Hunter-Reay was in the third-year star’s wake, tempting him to make a mistake.
For a few laps Rossi was flawless, then suddenly everything fell apart. His No. 27 Honda’s tires locked up at the entrance to Turn 3 on Lap 64, sending the 27-year-old into the turn’s runoff area with a flat left-front tire.
Hunter-Reay drove by to claim his first victory since 2015. Rossi was left scrambling to salvage what he could from a disappointing day.
Oh no!😧 There goes Rossi’s front left ⚫ tire.@RyanHunterReay to 🥇 P1!
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) June 3, 2018
The three-time IndyCar winner came to pit road for fresh tires and ultimately brought his car home in 12th. Afterwards the young star expressed happiness for his teammate, but understandable frustration following a difficult end to his race.
“It was a pretty disappointing day considering we led the most laps and started on pole,” he sad. “For sure we didn’t have the pace for Ryan (Hunter-Reay) – he was just on another level. So hats off to him and the DHL team, they certainly deserved to win. But the Ruoff Home Mortgage car definitely had a second-place finish in it.
“Unfortunately, with less than 10 laps to go, our luck changed. We’re not really sure what happened, we’re going to investigate to see if something went wrong because it was a very abnormal issue to have when we hadn’t experienced anything remotely similar all weekend.”
While his last trip to the runoff area knocked Rossi out of the points lead, he remains within range of the championship fight. Rossi sits third in the standings, 11 points behind Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power.