By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS— Alexander Rossi will need time.
The No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda starts 32nd in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 after a slowly deflating tire on his pole day qualifying run slowed him. Two drivers -Jim Rathmann in 1957 and Mario Andretti in 1981- have finished second after starting 32nd and on Media Day Rossi was candid about how he’ll plan his attack on race day.
“I’ll probably talk to Mario, I don’t think Jim’s race will be on YouTube,” said Rossi. “I don’t know what they did or how they did it, it’s definitely not something that we’re going to try to do in the first hundred laps by any means. We’re going to need all 500 miles and 200 laps to get it done so all you’ve got to lead is one corner of one lap so that’s the plan.
“It doesn’t change whether you start first or 32nd, we have 500 miles to execute. We have a very big job in front […] and lots of responsibilities from a driver standpoint, we have a lot of sponsors and a lot of team members who work very hard for this day and it’s obviously a blessing to be in the race and we have a very good opportunity to create one hell of a story.”
And what a story it would be. Rossi won the 2016 Indianapolis 500 in its 100th running. Completing the last lap at just over 179 mph, Rossi ran out of fuel as he stretched his final gas tank 36 laps (90 miles). Last year, Rossi led 23 laps en route to a seventh place finish.
However, this year has been a stronger year for other members of the Andretti team. Marco Andretti has been near the top of the speed charts through much of practice and is the highest starting Andretti Autosport Honda in 12th position. 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay is starting 14th, Carlos Munoz is starting 21st, Stefan Wilson starts 23rd and Zach Veach starts 25th.
Running that many cars might seem to be a detriment to Andretti Autosport but last year was a true litmus test. The team had Fernando Alonso behind the wheel of one entry and there was a lot more attention paid to the team.
“I never once felt as though we were overextended or anything,” said Rossi. “It was definitely more people outside the garage when you tried to go take a leak, but I didn’t feel weird about it and I think that was part of the motivation as well to run six cars again this year was because we did it and we did it well and none of us really had any complaints about it.”
While there weren’t any complaints about running six cars, the thing that is most clear is who the team relies on for running fast around the Speedway.
“Having Marco and Ryan is the key,” said Rossi. “Because I mean even with the other guys, they had the core amount of experience and they were the ones I really went to (for help) anyways except around the Speedway. Then everyone went to Carlos because that’s his jam and we’re still doing that oddly even though this is his one race per year.”
However, Rossi has another full time teammate in series rookie Zach Veach.
“I think Zach has done an awesome job,” Rossi said. “I wasn’t super optimistic initially but after the first test it was like, he contributed right away and he’s been a great addition. I think already advancing to his first top 12 in qualifying, he did it way before I did so yeah, he’s definitely got the capability.”