Alexander Rossi battled back from a pit lane mishap to finish third in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway. The Andretti Autosport driver now has back-to-back podium finishes and is second in the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship by just five points.
Qualifying fourth and moving up to third before his first pit stop on Lap 43, Rossi’s arrival into his pit box did not go as planned and he lost time as the crew rolled the 27 car back into place. After the pit stop, Rossi was issued a drive-thru penalty for hitting personnel.
“We had a strong start but then had a mishap on the first stop,” said Rossi. "It was unfortunate, but the important thing is that my crew is okay, that’s always my first concern. I didn’t challenge the box that hard, it was a stop under yellow so there wasn’t a need to – I went to turn right to line up and (the car) just went straight. But not only did we lose all the spots because they had to push me back into the box, but then we got a drive-through on top of it. It definitely put us in a big hole. Then we didn’t get the yellow we needed, so we had to completely un-lap ourselves and come back through the field.”
And come through the field he did. Now all the way back to 22nd in the 23-car field and one lap down, Rossi spent the rest of the 250-lap race passing cars. In fact, Rossi made a race-high 53 passes, which was 19% of the passes made in the race (Sebastian Bourdais had the second highest number of passes with 24).
By Lap 165, Rossi was back on the lead lap, and with his rocket ship, raced his way up to sixth over the next 65 laps. A yellow came out on Lap 230 when Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ed Jones, who was running in the top five, made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who was the race leader at the time, came in for tires and Rossi shuffled up to third.
After the clean-up from the yellow, the last seven laps were a rush to the end. Newgarden’s fresh tires allowed him to re-take the lead passing Rossi, and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsport teammates of Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe. Rossi also made a pass on Hinchcliffe and moved back into third where he remained for the checkered flag.
"To be in the position that we were with 10 laps to go was a blessing and a huge shout out to the whole 27 crew and the car they gave me,” said Rossi. "The Military To Motorsports Honda was by far the best car on track, I think, and it deserved to win. It wasn’t meant to be today, but I’m happy to stand on the podium.”
Wickens finished second in the race. The Series defending champion Josef Newgarden leaves the desert leading the 2018 Championship.
Next weekend, the Series travels to the streets of Long Beach, CA, for the Grand Prix of Long Beach. It will be the second of three back-to-back races. For more stories and race information, make sure to visit IndyCar.com.