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Alexander Rossi works two-stop strategy to winning perfection at Mid-Ohio

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Sunday, July 29th, 2018

Alexander Rossi, Robert Wickens, and Will Power hoist their trophies in Victory Circle following the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio — Photo by: Chris Jones

 

Courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series

LEXINGTON, Ohio – About the only wheel Alexander Rossi turned wrong in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio came when he attempted a victory doughnut in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda. His car slid off track and became stuck in the grass.

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Joe Skibinski

Otherwise it was an exceptional day for the Andretti Autosport driver, who won the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course by 12.8285 seconds. Rossi was the only driver in the 24-car field to complete the 90-lap race in two pit stops, while everyone else needed three.

HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO: Official results

It made all the difference as Rossi picked up his fourth career win and second of the season. Rossi also advanced one position in the championship standings, moving into second place, 46 points behind Scott Dixon after 13 of 17 races.

“It’s what we needed. We said coming into this weekend that we have to execute for five (race) weekends in a row; this is the start of that, hopefully,” Rossi said. “The NAPA Andretti team was so on it today. They gave me an amazing race car, and this one’s for them.”

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Joe Skibinski

Starting from the pole position after winning the Verizon P1 Award in Saturday qualifying, Rossi led 66 laps around Mid-Ohio’s 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road course. After achieving the necessary fuel mileage early in the race, he and strategist Rob Edwards decided to gamble on the two-stop strategy.

He pitted for Sunoco E85 ethanol and Firestone tires on Laps 29 and 59, running the final 31 laps (70 miles) on a single tank. When Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens made his third pit stop from the lead on Lap 65, Rossi assumed first place and was never threatened.

“It was great strategy all day,” Rossi said. “We knew we could two-stop it if we committed early, and that’s what we did. Great fuel mileage from Honda, great tire life from Firestone, so really an all-around perfect day.

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Joe Skibinski

“On races like that, you’ve just got to be really patient. It’s hard sometimes, but Rob is a very calming force and just talked me through it, and we were able to manage it. We were planning on seeing if we could hit a (fuel) number. Then if we could, we were going to do two stops. It was a little bit up to me to see if we could manage it. When we were able to hit it pretty easily, then, yeah, we committed.”

The victory was No. 60 for Andretti Autosport in Indy car competition, but its first at Mid-Ohio.

Wickens, the series rookie driving the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, finished second to equal his best result set at ISM Raceway in the second race of the season. Wickens now has seven top-five finishes this season and is solidly in sixth place in the standings.

“We stuck to our guns, and I thought our (three-stop) strategy worked well,” Wickens said. “The problem is, on my third stint, I just got stuck in a whole gaggle of cars. Unfortunately, they were on reds (Firestone alternate tires) and I was on black (primary tires), and I couldn’t make it through and just lost loads of time. I was probably losing about a second a lap for a good 10-15 laps.

“It’s unfortunate. Nevertheless, the Lucas Oil car went from P5 to P2. I can’t complain.”

Will Power finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in his 200th Indy car race, just ahead of teammate Josef Newgarden in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Dixon, the five-time Mid-Ohio winner driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, made career start No. 300 and finished fifth. Dixon, third on the all-time Indy car wins list with 44, has now placed in the top five in exactly half of his races.

With 150 top-fives, Dixon moved ahead of A.J. Foyt and alone into second place in Indy car history, trailing only Mario Andretti (194).

“Basically, a frustrating day,” Dixon said after seeing his points lead shrink by 16. “I think the car had some good speed. We were really quick early on in a stint, (then) we kind of faded a little bit. The track condition was just not great.

“We would pit and one of the cars in front of us, or right around us, would pit, too, and we’d fall behind them and it just kind of put us back. It was one of those days where one little, tiny move could have jumped us another two or three spots.”

Sebastien Bourdais, who started last after crashing in qualifying on Saturday, carved through the field to finish sixth in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda. It’s the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver’s best finish since he placed fourth at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in May.

The race ran under green-flag conditions the entire way, for the third time in 34 Indy car races at Mid-Ohio but first since 2013.

After 13 races, Dixon leads Rossi by 46 points, Newgarden by 60, Power by 87 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by 95. The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, Aug. 19. Live coverage starts at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.  

Mazda Road to Indy recap

One driver in each of the three levels of the INDYCAR-sanctioned Mazda Road to Indy development ladder completed a weekend sweep of wins at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

In Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, Patricio O’Ward led an Andretti Autosport podium sweep for the second straight day. O’Ward’s victory was his seventh of the season and pushed his points lead to 32 over teammate Colton Herta, who finished second.

In the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) won for the second day in a row. The 17-year-old holds a 31-point lead in the standings over Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport).

In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, Kyle Kirkwood completed a sweep of the three weekend races. The Cape Motorsports driver has already clinched the season title.

‘What They’re Saying’ from Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “We just seemed to catch traffic and I don’t think our strategy worked quite as well as we wanted it to, but you make a plan and go with it. It didn’t quite all work today for us. But it was a very good effort from everybody today. I think the Hitachi Chevrolet was good today. We gave a good shot at it today. We will go back and analyze it and go on from here.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Today was a tough day. We just didn’t have the pace the entire race. We just tried to bring home the car and I did the best that I could. We are still struggling to find the speed on road courses. We will focus on figuring this out for next year and for the rest of the season. We will keep working hard and figuring out how to be quick.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “It was a pretty disappointing day for us. We had to roll the dice on strategy a little bit given where we were starting. Unfortunately, it just didn’t play out for us. We had a rough day in pit lane which didn’t help; it lost us some track position that cost us a ton of time behind (Zach) Veach in the second stint. From then on, we were just doing damage control. It’s unfortunate. We had to take a bit of a risk starting 10th and today just didn’t play out. The Arrow Electronics crew will regroup, pull a tear-off on this one and go for it in Pocono.” 
 
ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “We stuck to our guns and I thought our strategy worked well. The problem is, on my third stint, I just got stuck in a whole gaggle of cars. Unfortunately, they were on reds (Firestone alternate tires) and I was on blacks (Firestone primary tires), and I couldn’t make it through and just lost loads of time. I was probably losing about a second a lap for a good 10-15 laps. It’s unfortunate. Nevertheless, the Lucas Oil car went from P5 to P2, I can’t complain.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Basically, a frustrating day. I think the car had some good speed. We were really quick early on in a stint, we kind of faded a little bit. The track condition was just not great. We would pit and one of the cars in front of us, or right around us, would pit, too, and we’d fall behind them and it just kind of put us back. It was one of those days where one little, tiny move could have jumped us another two or three spots.”

ED JONES (No. 10 DC Solar Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “A frustrating day. I think we had the pace and we should have been around seventh or eighth. We called the wrong strategy and got on the wrong tires. Unfortunately, everything we did made the race worse for us. We also had a (tire) puncture to add to that. Just seems like recently everything has gone against us and everything we try to do. It makes everything look a lot worse than it is. Surely, things will change around and we will come back stronger.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): (About if he had anything else for the leaders): “No, man, everyone else is so good in this series that you just have to have everything perfect. We just weren’t quite good enough on blacks (Firestone primary tires). We really struggled to get up to speed on those, but were pretty good on reds (Firestone alternate tires). But still a good day for the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. Obviously, another full green race and I can’t believe it. It’s just a series full of really good drivers now, and no one makes mistakes and it just came down to strategy.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet): “Tough weekend for the No. 14 ABC Supply car. No matter what we changed, we couldn’t get a good direction on our setup, so it ended up being a survival race. We’re going to regroup this week and analyze what we’re missing in order to make it better. Looking forward to going to Pocono in a couple of weeks and putting on a good show for our sponsors.” 

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda): “I’m disappointed. We just weren’t good enough today. The pace just wasn’t there in the car and the rear was so unstable. We struggled with too much oversteer most of the race, which put us a ways behind the 8-ball. I just couldn’t get close enough to anybody without losing a lot. We had to just manage the rest of the day. I was hoping for a better result for the Fifth Third Bank team.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “Today was making up for a big mess up yesterday. It’s sad, as this car could have been a winner today with our pace. It was a heck of drive and I don’t think it gets much better than that going from 24th to 6th in a straight-up fight on a track that’s difficult to pass. Obviously, it was a lot of ‘what ifs’ that come to mind. Really happy with the day, but quite disappointed for the group as far as the weekend is concerned, as I think we could have been on the podium.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “Obviously I feel tired. It’s my first race back and it’s a tough one at Mid-Ohio. It’s really physically demanding here. We started the race and we didn’t have that much pace at first in our No. 19 Paysafe car, so we ended up pitting early, and then I had to let the leaders go by, so we lost a lot of time there. That said, I finished the race and that was my goal with my leg still hurting a bit. It’s still healing. I’m sure that by the time we get to our next road course in Portland, we’ll be a lot better and I’ll be back at a 100 percent, but I’m happy I was able to come here and finish the race. Now we can focus on our upcoming tests and our next race.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I sent it on the first couple of corners. That was really good fun, a bit of wheel-banging and running side-by-side with a few people. We got up to ninth in those first two laps. Our pace was pretty good during the race. I don’t think we were a million miles off at all. We had a bit of a slow first pit stop and lost a few places there, then we just seemed to struggle a bit on out laps. Those are the two areas where we lost the time; otherwise, I think we would have been a bit higher up. We still have a bit of work that we need to do, but overall, it was a good race.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It was a bit of a tough start of the race. We didn’t get a great start and got kind of boxed in. We weren’t able to move up early on like we had hoped for. We struggled with the black (Firestone primary) tires, but once we put the reds (Firestone alternate tires) on again, the car was pretty good. We were able to make passes and fight our way up to 13th. The second half of the race wasn’t too bad, but we would have liked to have a different first half. We’ve had a very solid last five or six weekends and a lot of positives to take away. We will work to put it to good use for the last races.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “Without a warmup this morning, it was going to be a bit of a guessing game as far as race setup. Luckily, the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet team guessed right. I could really be myself and attack during this race. We’ve just got to keep working in that direction. I think we were able to make huge gains in our street circuit package in Toronto. The whole team is super-fast on ovals and the last bit is getting where we need to be on these road courses. Today was very satisfying to prove that our showing during qualifying is not the true performance of the No. 22 Menards team.” 

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “I think it was a tough day for everybody out there. The track conditions meant that it was going to be pretty slippery and the cars were going to be quite a handful. We really struggled in that first stint and I just wasn’t able to get the lap time out of the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet. The guys did a great job in pit lane and we flipped up the strategy on the last stint when we went with the Firestone alternate tires, which helped us out a lot. We’ll go back to the drawing board and evaluate what we did here, and hopefully, be able to learn from it.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “I’m slightly happy to bring home another top-10 finish. The last half of the season, we wanted to be consistently in the top 10 and I want to prove that I belong here. I think we’re doing more and more of that every weekend. With no yellow (flags) today, I think we needed to qualify a little bit better to be able to race towards the front. But I’m just so happy that our Relay car had the speed, but we just got caught in some traffic. It’s just hard racing out there, especially on the blacks (Firestone primary tires). We were falling back, so we were fighting with everything we could with those guys on the red (Firestone alternate) tires, but I think, overall, it was a pretty good day for us. We learned a ton and I’m excited to go on to Pocono, and hopefully, we finish a few spots higher.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We said coming into this weekend that we have to execute for five weekends in a row, this is the start of that, hopefully. The NAPA Andretti team were so on it today. They gave me an amazing race car and this one’s for them. It was great strategy all day. We could make a two-stop if we committed early and that’s what we did. Great fuel mileage from Honda, great tire life from Firestone, so an all-around perfect day.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It wasn’t our day; it was kind of a mess. I felt like I was running around on crutches out there. We started out on the first set of sticker reds (new Firestone alternate tires) and had a left-front (tire) that was falling apart. I had a huge vibration, so we had to pit early. There was no way around it and that committed us to the strategy. Unfortunately, pitting early like that, then you just put yourself at risk for everybody to overcut you, continuing to run and we just got out of everybody’s way that way, unfortunately. I was just doing whatever I could to hold the floodgates back there at the end. I was on primary (Firestone) black tires racing everybody on sticky, alternate reds. I was doing whatever I could to keep it from coming around at the end. We definitely needed today to go better. It’s unfortunate it went this way today for the DHL, AutoNation and Butterball turkey team. It’s a bummer. We started third and we thought we had a better shot at it today, but congrats to the No. 27 team and to Alex (Rossi). He had a good run doing the ol’ two-stopper and it worked out. Everybody said that if it went green all day today, two stops wasn’t going to work, but he showed them.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It’s extremely disappointing not to be able to compete competitively. The start was good. I overtook a couple of cars and was P6, and there were only a few cars in front and it all looked good, but on the second lap in Turn 4, I know (Max) Chilton was on push-to-pass and was coming, so I left one car space into Turn 4 and it was all good. On the exit of Turn 4, somehow he clipped me from behind and I got spun from that. After that I never recovered in the race. Unfortunately, in the middle of the stint the pace wasn’t very good, so it was difficult to gain any positions back. I think I dropped to 21st and only gained a few positions in the end, so it is very disappointing. We had high hopes today, but that was the race.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 HD Pellets Chevrolet): “It was a tough race and it was a really long one. We had a decent race and a good start at the beginning. Our strategy was working well with the Firestone red tires and we were able to make up some positions. Even though we did not finish where we hoped to, I am pleased overall and this has been a great experience running in the Verizon IndyCar Series.” 

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “That was just a really disappointing way to end this weekend at Mid-Ohio after hitting such a high note yesterday with our Firestone Fast Six qualifying effort. We had a good start at green flag, but it turned for us pretty quickly after Race Control gave us a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact with (Takuma) Sato. We were hoping with how quick the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet was that we would be able to recover and fight back through the field, but with no yellows (flags) and some issues in pit lane, we just couldn’t move forward at all.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation Sirius XM MSR with SPM Honda): “We had a high-risk, high-reward type of strategy. The race summed up our weekend, in that at sometimes we were OK, but then others we were struggling a lot. Our day was a combination of not being quick and not getting the yellows (flags) we needed. The team has been working hard and I think that only doing a few races this year is a challenge, but we are making the best of it and I know we will make progress during Portland.”
 
CONOR DALY (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I think we had a reasonable pace all race long. We put in a little too much wing on the first stop, so the second stint was really tough because the car was really loose. After that, we started making up some good ground on track and the car was pretty quick. The (Max) Chilton machine really messed with us when he was already a couple laps down. I’m sort of unsure as to why that was acceptable, but it is what it is. It’s a shame what happened by running out of fuel, but these things happen. Racing is a wild sport. The guys did really good in the pits, the pit stops were great and the No. 88 Chevy was great. Now we just move on.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Ruoff Home Mortgage / Curb Honda): “I’m a bit bummed for the Ruoff Home Mortgage team. We had (Sebastien) Bourdais beat, and then I’m not sure what happened, but he was able to gap us there on the second stint. We only had clear track on the second stint and we were flying, so we were one of the fastest cars out there, but the circumstances just didn’t work out.”

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