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With Andretti Autosport back on form in 2018, Rossi proved from the word go that he'd be a title contender. He was only mid-grid after disrupted qualifying session in St Petersburg but he carved through to the front after a disrupted qualifying session. While the clash with leader Robert Wickens was controversial, it laid down an important marker: if he feels he has more than 50% chance of pulling off a manoeuvre, Rossi will risk it. It was a point he reinforced on several occasions throughout the season.
At Phoenix overtaking was supposedly impossible, but after a pitlane infraction triggered a drivethrough penalty and cost him a couple of laps, no one could match Rossi's pace and he climbed back to third. In Long Beach he was masterful in qualifying and the race and earned a thoroughly deserved victory, in the Indianapolis 500 he rose from 32nd to fourth with brave passing manoeuvres, at Road America he ran Wickens out of road as he repassed him, and at Sonoma, another track where everyone complains that overtaking is rare, Rossi again provided evidence to the contrary.
His knife-between-the-teeth determination didn't always pay off, and his decision to ignore the overwhelming evidence that he couldn't hold off Ryan Hunter-Reay in the second Detroit race overruled both the more rational side of his brain and the advice from team manager and strategist Rob Edwards to 'think big picture'.
But he learned rapidly. In the following race at Texas, when Simon Pagenaud's defence of second place proved impenetrable, Rossi tamed his instincts and settled for third and he'd show similar self discipline when conserving enough fuel to make one fewer pitstop than his rivals at Mid-Ohio (victory) and Gateway (second). By combining those qualities with the pace to outqualify team-mate Hunter-Reay 10 times, it's clear that Rossi has all the tools necessary to be a champion in IndyCar.
ROSSI'S VERDICT (assessing his title bid)
"The first big reason why we made progress this year was the evolution of the technical philosophies we'd started in 2017, and Eric Bretzman [team technical director] and Jeremy Milless [Rossi's race engineer] had huge parts to play in that.
"The second reason was that with a spec aerokit, our disadvantage to the other manufacturer was gone. So that put us right in the game. Then our engineers quickly gained an understanding of what this new car needed to be quick, and there was a step forward from me because I had another year of experience and I was in my second season with Jeremy and Rob [Edwards, team CEO and Rossi's tactician].
"It's good that we won a street course, a road course and a superspeedway – and we should have won on a short oval. We were fast enough to win Phoenix but I got the penalty for the pitlane issue. It's satisfying to have pace across all types of track, but there are still places where we struggled – Iowa – and a couple of places where we were OK but not great, like Road America and Barber. So there are definitely more steps to take, and right across the board because there's no doubt that other teams and drivers are going to be better in year two with the aerokit.
"Personally, I think I made fewer errors this year. I just think everything got amplified by how consistent Scott was. Going into Sonoma, I had way more points than Josef [Newgarden] had at the same point the year before, when he won the championship, but I was still 29 points behind Scott!
"My biggest mistake in terms of points lost was Detroit 2, where I should have finished second and instead came home 12th. There was a missed strategy in Barber when I got 11th instead of fourth, I should have been on the podium at Toronto but made a couple of mistakes and was eighth.
"Sonoma I guess is on me because I hit Marco [Andretti] from behind and broke my wing, but I honestly didn't expect him to slow where he did. Whatever, I don't feel it cost us the championship, because I don't think we were going to flip our points deficit to Scott.
"But… we learn, we move on. The positives from the year are the three wins and the knowledge that our trajectory, as a team, is upwards again. We've got a lot to be proud of."
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