In a rough and tumble season opener for the Verizon IndyCar series, Alexander Rossi drove from 12th to third in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. After a perplexing penalty in qualifying that thwarted Rossi’s pole chances, he drove a solid and fast race in the NAPA AUTO PARTS #27 car, and hit the podium for valuable Championship points.
The 110-lap race had eight cautions, including the final lap which finished under yellow. Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s rookie driver (and pole winner) Robert Wickens led for most of the race, but Rossi was fast and caught him in the final 20 laps. A yellow came out on Lap 107 when Chilton stopped on course in Turn 8. This led to a re-start shootout between Wickens, Rossi, Bourdais and Rahal.
“Normally they don't allow Push-to-Pass on restarts,” said Rossi. "You’d normally have to do a timed lap before you did it, but because of the late call to go green that lap, they allowed it, and I actually got the call when I was in the middle of Turn 13 and 14. So I had a big jump on Rob [Wickens], and he got to the Push-to-Pass pretty late. The run was perfect for me going into Turn 1, and I knew there wasn't going to be many other opportunities. Obviously [Wickens] had a good car all day, and they did a great job."
Rossi’s move bumped Wickens, allowing Bourdais and Rahal to pass on the inside and move into first and second.
"It is unfortunate and it cost both Robert and I the win,” said Rossi.
"I made the pop. He defended the position, which he has the right to do, but in doing so, in moving the reaction, he put me into the marbles pretty late into the corner. It's difficult with these cars and with how much we're sliding around in the first place, even on the racing line. When you're put in the marbles, it's hairy. Super unfortunate, but nevertheless, it was a great job by the whole team all weekend."
"Great to pick up where we left off last year and to be fighting for a W,” said Rob Edwards, Strategist for No. 27 and Chief Operating Officer for Andretti Autosport. "After our challenges in qualifying yesterday, Alex passed a lot of cars and the guys executed the strategy perfectly. Looking forward to being at the sharp end all season and fighting for the championship."
The Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Phoenix on April 6-7, for the first oval of the season.