By: David Malsher, US Editor
Watkins Glen IndyCar winner Alexander Rossi said that discovering his pace on hard-compound black Firestones was sufficient to compete with Helio Castroneves on softer red tires was when he knew he had a race-winning car.
With the Grand Prix at the Glen starting on a wet-but-drying track and with rain forecast for later in the race, all the IndyCar cars started on groove wet tires… and then all but two cars pitted at the end of Lap 1.
While most switched to reds, which came up to temperature far more swiftly in the Glen’s cool conditions, both Rossi and Andretti Autosport-Honda teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay were put on blacks. It was a decision which Hunter-Reay described as “disappointing”, and which allowed Castroneves to get around Rossi.
Said Rossi: “I was a little disappointed. But there was obviously a global greater picture that the team was looking at. I guess 'disappointed' is not the right word. It was really hard on the out-lap because it was still pretty damp at the time. Helio got up to speed quite a bit quicker than I did. At the time, Turn 9 nine was still wet. I was on blacks and he was on reds. I just had a slide that carried on through the moisture there, and he was just able to get hooked up sooner than me.
“So it wasn't anything too dramatic; just his tires came in probably two or three laps faster than mine.
“But I think I was the only car on primary blacks that was really able to hang with him and Scott on reds. That was confidence-building. I was staying in touch with him, and the reds had a massive advantage over the blacks, which we hadn't seen over the course of the weekend.
“So I knew when I put on the reds, it was going to be game time. Unfortunately I didn't get the full stint.”
When the leaders pitted again, this time under full-course caution on Lap 15, a fuel probe and hose failure meant the #98 team weren’t able to fill Rossi’s car, obliging him to stop again on Lap 24, but his day was saved when another [as it transpired, unneccesary] yellow for a spin by Takuma Sato on Lap 27 allowed him to close up on the back of the field. As the top runners pitted again, Rossi got back to the lead and roughly back on strategy.
“I really wasn't upset after the fuel issue,” Rossi said. “I was upset when the yellow came out and I couldn’t get around Takuma [no passing is allowed under yellow] because he was having an issue. That I was frustrated about because I was concerned that I wasn't going to catch the back of the pack.
“The actual fuel issue… it's not the first time that something has gone a bit sideways in the race. I knew there was a lot of time left, and I wasn't letting myself get frustrated.”
Given his road course background, Rossi admitted that Watkins Glen was the type of track most suited to his style.
“There wasn't anything throughout the race where I was second guessing what I was doing,” he commented. “It was truly just a natural 60 laps. It wasn't something where I was white knuckling like I sometimes am on short ovals. Speedways I'm pretty confident. The short ovals I think are still my weakness if I had to be self-critical.
“Yeah, I think this track really suited my driving style. It’s fast, it's smooth, you can get into a good rhythm. That was really just a second nature thing for me. When I was able to get in clean air, race people, do starts, restarts, it was all stuff that I've been doing for quite some time.”
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