By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
Alexander Rossi overcame an early costly mistake and stormed back through the field to finish third in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.
After starting fourth, the No. 27 Andretti Autosport driver got around Team Penske’s Will Power for third place, where he stayed until the first round pit stops under yellow on Lap 43.
Unfortunately, Rossi slid in his pit box, hitting the left front tire changer and necessitating a green flag pit lane drive-thru penalty. He was suddenly a lap down to the field and from laps 54-59, he was last of all cars still running.
Rock bottom then became a solid foundation for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner.
“It was at that point kind of up to me to try to dig us out of it,” said Rossi. “I was really hoping we would get a yellow to un-lap ourselves. We never did.”
Dicing through the field left and right, Rossi was able to un-lap himself on Lap 165 of 250. On Lap 188, he was scored as the leader, and by the end of the night he had made 53 on-track passes, while the next highest passer was pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais with 24.
The 26-year-old Californian more than doubled the passes made by second on the passing list. The secret was extending the life of his Firestone tires.
“We spent a lot of the open test (in February) focusing on tire duration and tire life,” said Rossi, in the post race press conference. “Qualifying was important to us, but it wasn’t the most important thing.”
Rossi went from 12th to sixth when he came upon a crossroads. Ed Jones’ No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda found a new home against the Turn 3 wall on Lap 229. Rossi’s team decided to keep him on-track with Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe ahead of him, while the rest of the lead lap cars in the top 11 pitted.
Rossi would take the Lap 243 restart in third and despite eventual winner Josef Newgarden getting around him that lap, Rossi got around Hinchcliffe on Lap 246 and would finish one spot behind the driver he collided with late in the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Robert Wickens.
“To be in the position that we were with 10 laps to go was a blessing and a huge shout out to the whole 27 crew and the car they gave me. The opportunity we had to win tonight, which unfortunately escaped us a little bit,” said Rossi.
Was Rossi a bit aggressive in moving through the field? Yes, but there wasn’t a choice of not being aggressive.
“We had to, we were two laps down,” said Rossi. “No yellow coming to save us. We had to un-lap ourselves and try to do something.”
Rossi is now second in the points standings, only five points behind defending series champion Josef Newgarden.
The next race is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday April 15th. The green flag is set to wave at 4:30 p.m. ET.