By David Morgan, Associate Editor
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Barber Motorsports Park has never been one of Alexander Rossi’s favorite tracks and Saturday, it seemed the road course was living up to its reputation.
After showing promising speed early on in the weekend, Rossi’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda skidded off track Turn 17 during practice on Saturday morning, with the rear end of his machine making heavy contact with the barrier.
With only two and a half hours before qualifying, the team had a tall task ahead of them, especially with the amount damage that the car had sustained in the crash.
Despite the mountain of changes that lay ahead of the team, including an engine change, rear suspension, and many other parts and pieces in the rear end of the car, it was all hands-on deck for Rossi’s crew, with team members from all across Andretti Autosport pitching in to get the car back in racing shape to allow him to be on the track for qualifying.
After the team worked their guts out to get the car back out on track, it was Rossi’s turn to back up their effort and he did just that throughout the three rounds of qualifying.
Rossi timed in fifth fastest in the first round, followed with the second fastest time in the second round to advance on to the Fast Six, where his lap there would be good enough for fifth-place on the starting grid.
“I never had a doubt that they’d get it done,” Rossi said. “It was just a matter of how much we could kind of fine-tune it. But I’ve driven for this team for going on seven years, six years now, I think. We’ve had either crash damage or incidents or mechanical issues or whatever, and we have not ever missed a session. Those guys are phenomenal in being able to diagnose a problem, get it addressed.
“I was never in doubt. For me, that whole time was focused on qualifying, talking to my teammates, talking to the other engineers to get an idea of what they felt on the alternate tires, then applying it as best as I could when we got out there.”
Team strategist Brian Barnhart echoed Rossi’s sentiments, noting that it was a true team effort for them to get the car repaired in time for qualifying.
“It was huge,” Barnhart said. “There was a lot of work that needed to be done and it’s a tremendous reflection on the Andretti Autosport team. And really the epitome of teamwork because all four cars jumped in. We had colored shirts from all different sponsors and everybody represented there. You couldn’t even see the car.
“There was a lot of work done between the gearbox, engine, steering rack, body work, underwing. Just incredible with what they did. A massive effort to get here and Alex is standing in the seat. We’re going to make the best of it.”
At a track notoriously difficult to pass on, Rossi noted after his run that the team getting the repairs done and getting him on track for qualifying was key for being successful on Sunday.
“If we had not made qualifying, started 27th, you’re super screwed,” Rossi said. “This gives us a really good shot to have a good day tomorrow. Yeah, it’s because of those guys. Big thanks to them.”