By Adam Tate, Managing Editor
IndyCar rookie and F1 reserve Alexander Rossi had his first oval experience this past weekend in IndyCar’s long awaited return to the Desert Mile at Phoenix International Raceway.
In the lead up to the race, the newcomer was noticeably surprised at the transition and different skill set required for a fast, short oval.
The first 10 laps I drove around an oval I was a little bit timid about it, but I enjoyed the experience. It’s a very unique set of circumstances you have to understand and appreciate. They are all very different but it’s like any other racetrack, you find the limit, you find what works and what doesn’t and you go from there. You just have to be clever, it’s about planning what you are going to do a lap in advance
– Alexander Rossi
He must have taken his own advice to heart because he qualified for the race in 14th, the fourth best Honda, at an average speed of 186.939 mph.
Once the green flag fell Saturday night he drove a smart, consistent race by keeping his cool and not doing anything crazy. It paid off as he steadily gained and lost paces through the ebb and flow of the race. In the end his only real mistakes of the night came in the closing stages of the race. He stopped for a splash of fuel right before a yellow came out, he had been in seventh at the time but lost a lot of ground. Trying to make it up and complete a pass on lap 248 of 250 he brushed the wall and picked up a puncture. It drew the race ending caution, relegating him 14th, the second highest placed rookie in the field after Max Chilton and the final car on the lead lap.
Today’s finishing position is not reflective of where we should have finished. Before we had to fall back in the order, we were P7 and had the potential for a top 5 finish. We’ll have to look at how we maybe could have done that better. I think the car was good for most of the race and the crew did a great job. I’m glad we got the first oval race under our belt and I know there’s more to come next time.
– Alexander Rossi
Despite the disappointment in his tone, 14th was a good oval debut for the rookie. He was the fourth highest placed Honda again and he showed maturity and patience behind the wheel. It was rather fitting that the result was so symmetrical with the start, because Rossi was so consistent. Consistency is one of the hardest skills for rookies to pick up on ovals and the 14th place on Saturday night is a very respectable score.
Up next are the twisting confines of Long Beach, another world compared to a fast, short oval like Phoenix. We’ll have our eyes on Rossi there to bring you the next segment of the Rossi Rookie Report.
Image: Chris Jones/INDYCAR