Rossi confirmed for Baja 1000 return

Alexander Rossi’s cheerful disregard for the concept of an off-season will continue next month when he suits up for his second run in the Baja 1000.

Fresh from his debut in the Bathurst 1000 two weeks ago, Rossi will drive a Baja Ridgeline Race Truck as part of the Honda Off-Road Racing Team.

“I am more than excited to get back in this Honda Ridgeline off-road truck for the Baja 1000,” Rossi said. “It’s safe to say I decided last year, within five minutes of testing the Ridgeline for the first time, that I was going to do this again.”

Rossi finished second in Class 7 in his first appearance at the iconic desert race last year, picking up some internet notoriety along the way for a near-miss with a non-competitor vehicle that had strayed onto the course.

The seven-time IndyCar Series race winner will again share driving duties with team owner/driver Jeff Proctor and Baja veteran Pat Dailey. Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018, and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers all of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough. Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

Powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 produced by HPD, the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck features a body designed by Honda R&D Americas’ Los Angeles Design Studio, with inspiration taken from the current Honda Ridgeline, also designed and developed by Honda R&D North Americas.

Making approximately 550 horsepower, HPD’s 3.5-liter HR35TT engine uses the same block, cylinder heads and crankshaft as the production V6 engine that powers the all-new Ridgeline. Additional, custom elements of the powertrain include an HPD-designed intake plenum and custom ECU programming.

Rossi is the sixth Indy 500 winner to take part in the Baja 1000. Other Indy winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Parnelli Jones, a two-time race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay; Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and Buddy Rice. IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff and Pat once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500 – where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis – and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

The oldest, most prestigious and longest continuously held desert off-road race, this year’s SCORE Baja 1000 on Nov. 19-24 will be a loop race of 799.1 miles, starting and ending in Ensenada in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. The car, truck and UTV classes will start at 10:30 a.m. PT on Friday, Nov. 22, with the first finishers expected to complete the race in approximately 13 hours.

The Week In IndyCar, Oct 10, James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi

It’s the Off Track with Hinch and Rossi Podcast duo of James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi calling into The Week In IndyCar podcast from Australia where they’re about to embark on their first Bathurst 1000.

Everything from which one would win in a fist fight, to seat-wetting etiquette in their Walkinshaw Andretti United Holden Commodore, to who would win a race if Hinch was paired with Marshall Pruett and Rossi had Robin Miller as a co-driver in a RACER-sponsored event, was posed during the quick call between sessions at Mount Panorama.

Rossi tops the time sheets in Friday ‘warm-up’

Alexander Rossi had a set of sticker reds for the Friday afternoon ‘warm-up’ session and he wasn’t afraid to use them, posting a 1m10.0988s to comfortably top the times.

“This morning was difficult because we didn’t get a lap in on blacks,” said Rossi, who coasted the final half of his last lap after running out of fuel and shutting the car off. “So we had to sacrifice the second session to through the checklist, and saved the reds for the warm-up. We’re getting there.”

Rossi, who didn’t use the softer compound in the second practice, was almost 0.8s faster than Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, leaving Colton Herta to complete an Andretti-aligned 1-2-3 with a lap just a couple of thousandths off Hunter-Reay’s best time. Scott Dixon and Conor Daly – continuing his ‘year of many firesuits’ by jumping back into Andretti’s No.25 for the weekend – rounded out the top five.

The red flags flew twice during the afternoon, for pretty much identical incidents. The first came within the opening minutes when Ed Jones stopped at the pit entry, while Colton Herta later brought things to halt by getting stuck in exactly the same spot.

For a moment it appeared that a third interruption might be on the cards when Graham Rahal caught the inside curb at the top of the Corkscrew and drove down it backwards; but he managed to gather himself up and continue.

Elsewhere, Sebastien Bourdais was sidelined from the session by a neck complaint.

Will Hunter-Reay help Rossi at Laguna?

Ryan Hunter-Reay has a dilemma to ponder. A winner last year at Detroit and again at the season finale in Sonoma, the Andretti Autosport veteran is chasing his first victory of 2019 for DHL and all of the loyal sponsors who support his No. 28 Honda.

Holding seventh in the standings, Hunter-Reay isn’t part of the group chasing the championship in Monterey, but his close friend and teammate Alexander Rossi is needing some help to knock Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden off the top of the points during Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix.

Thus, his quandary: Should he focus his effort on helping Rossi — and therefore his team — to try and overtake Newgarden in the championship, which won’t be easy due to the size of the Penske driver’s lead? Or concentrate on giving his sponsors the best send-off possible if victory is in sight?

“We just need to win the race,” the 2012 IndyCar champion told RACER. “If we’re in a position where we can take points away from others, where we can help Rossi, obviously we’re going to do that.”

Barring a freak development where Newgarden falls out of the race early, Rossi needs to win to have a chance at earning the championship. A second-place result, in most scenarios, won’t get the job done. One can only wonder what the situation will look like if Hunter-Reay finds himself leading late in the 90-lap event with Rossi on his heels.

“We just have to focus on winning,” he reiterated. “We need a win this year. Last year, we went pole to checkers at Sonoma. I’m missing Sonoma, but it’s great to be back at Laguna, and I’d love to win here, too.”

 

Hunter-Reay, Rossi swap cars at Laguna test

Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay spent the latter stages of Thursday morning’s IndyCar test session at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca conducting a ride swap.

With Rossi inserted into Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda and RHR buckled into Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda, the two sampled each other’s chassis setup in an effort to point the Andretti engineers in a faster and sharper direction towards optimum handling.

Although Hunter-Reay, the 2012 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 214 Indy 500 winner, isn’t in contention for the title during this weekend’s season finale, Rossi holds second in the standings and holds a reasonable chance of overtaking championship leader Josef Newgarden in the double-points showdown.

Rossi turned five laps in Hunter-Reay’s car, which carries a special DHL anniversary livery this weekend.

“We’re just working together, and we’ve done this in testing at Sebring and we’d do it more often if we had the time,” Hunter-Reay told RACER. “With the open test today, we did have time and it let’s us try two radically different setups with two guys who are the same height, the same build, and go test at the same exact time on the racetrack, so we took advantage of that opportunity. I think we got some good reads out of it.”

Rossi turned five laps in Hunter-Reay’s car, turning a best of 1m12.5454s. In Rossi’s car, RHR produced a lap of 1m13.0518s in seven tours of the 11-turn, 2.3-mile road course — and made hand gestures after climbing from the car that indicated it demanded his full attention.

Rossi’s engineer Jeremy Milless and Hunter-Reay’s engineer Ray Gosselin will take the feedback provided from their drivers and make adjustments for the afternoon that should allow both cars to make rapid improvements.

“It helps give us an idea of what tire degradation is like with each setup, how both might react in race conditions,” Hunter-Reay continued. “And when you have drivers who like the same setups, and fit the same car, it’s a no brainer.”

 

What does each IndyCar title contender need to do to win?

Tracking the championship progress of IndyCar’s four title contenders during the double-points season finale in Monterey should be rather easy.

At 593 points entering the September 20-22 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca event, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden will be on a mission to finish the 90-lap race with decent speed and minimal drama. He doesn’t need to win, or land on the podium to capture his second championship, and that might offer a small amount of comfort to the 28-year-old from Tennessee.

With one extra point on offer for earning pole on Saturday, another for leading a lap, and two more for leading the most laps, four bonus points will be in play that could shape the final standings. Here’s a look at the basic outcomes Newgarden and the three rivals pursuing his spot atop the championship are chasing:

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi holds second with 552 points, and while his 41-point deficit to Newgarden might seem small at a race that pays 100 points to win and has those four additional points on offer, the 27-year-old Californian will need to be spectacular when it matters in Monterey.

With a win and no bonus points for Rossi (652), Newgarden can cruise home in fifth without bonus points and win the title (653). If Rossi has a perfect weekend and earns the maximum 104 points available (656), Newgarden would need to finish fourth with no extra points (657) to deny Rossi the title.

Life becomes much harder for Rossi if he fails to win. Without bonus points for Rossi in second (632), Newgarden can win the championship by sauntering to the finish line in 10th without extra points in hand (633). If Rossi runs second and takes all the bonus points (636), Newgarden’s task would be to finish ninth (637).

Considering that Newgarden has finished fifth or better in 12 of the 16 races held this year, the size of the challenge facing Rossi is foreboding. Winning is the only solution available to Andretti’s contender that places a modest amount of pressure on Penske’s leader to react.

To paraphrase a quote once again from retired NASCAR Hall of Famer Ricky Bobby, “If Rossi ain’t first, he may as well be last.”

The situation facing Rossi is the same for Penske’s 35-year-old Simon Pagenaud, who’s third at 551 points.

His 42-point gap to teammate Newgarden is only one more than Rossi’s, and the needs for the 2016 title winner change very little. If Pagenaud wants to claim his second championship, and wins without earning any bonus points (651), Newgarden can finish fifth (653) while also lacking extra points and seal the title.

A perfect weekend for France’s Pagenaud (655) would force Newgarden to finish fourth (657) to add a second Astor Cup to the one he won in 2017. A second-place run for Pagenaud, with all four bonus points included (635), would have Newgarden targeting ninth to clinch the title (637).

Pagenaud is in identical territory to Rossi when it comes to needing an exemplary outcome in qualifying and the race to have any realistic chance of toppling Newgarden.

In fourth place at 508 points, defending series champion Scott Dixon is the longest of long shots to keep the crown. If the Chip Ganassi Racing driver wins and earns all four bonus points, the maximum number he could reach is 612. Newgarden would only need to finish 20th (613) with no extra points, to keep the New Zealander from winning the title.

In a field of 24 cars, the 39-year-old’s best possible outcome would need to see Newgarden engaged in a nightmarish scenario to facilitate a jump from fourth to first in the standings.

However, even amid that worst-case state, Dixon could finish second, earn all four bonus points, have Newgarden fail to take the start, and it still wouldn’t be enough. It’s pole position and a crushing win on Sunday for Dixon, plus cartoon anvils raining down on Newgarden in the opening laps – and even that might not be get the job done.

Factor in the drivers in second and third that also stand in his way, and Dixon’s small odds of becoming a six-time champ suggest 2020 is the next opportunity for it to take place.

Perfection or desperation. One of those two realities will need to come true for Rossi, Pagenaud, or Dixon at Laguna Seca.

With the inside lane of the downhill run to Turn 2 known as a place where big mistakes have been made on the opening lap and restarts – picture a reenactment of the carnage at Portland a few weeks ago – the drama Newgarden needs to avoid might come calling.

Factor in the hits and spins we routinely see entering the Corkscrew, under braking into the final corner at Turn 11, and the side-by-side collisions leaving the infield at Turn 5, and the stakes are high for IndyCar’s title-contending quartet.

Minus the ACME anvils and IndyCar bowling balls, Newgarden should be just fine. But, for those with strong memories, how many IndyCar races have gone according to plan in 2019? Not enough to let the championship leader sleep peacefully until the season’s over.

The answer to the title question will be provided starting at 12 p.m. PT Sunday on NBC.

Laguna tactics simple for Rossi: “We have to win”

He made a declaration a few months ago and repeated it Wednesday during a media teleconference. “You can’t win this championship with only two wins,” said Alexander Rossi, whose two victories have him 41 points behind four-time winner Josef Newgarden going into the season finale Sept. 22 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. “We have to win the race.”

Sitting third in the NTT IndyCar Series standings, Rossi enters the 17th race of 2019 in similar circumstances to a year ago, when he trailed eventual champ Scott Dixon by 29 points. In that finale, Dixie finished second to clinch his fifth title while Rossi was sixth and uncharacteristically uncompetitive on a road course.

“Throughout that weekend we didn’t have the pace to win,” he recalled. “We’re going into next weekend with a lot of unknowns since most drivers haven’t raced at Laguna before and the test we had in February was fairly inconclusive due to weather. So it’s pretty much a blank slate for everyone and that’s exciting, because it rewards the teams and drivers that come to grips with everything the quickest. It will probably reward them with a championship.”

The 27-year-old Californian, who first fell for auto racing by watching CART at Laguna in the late ’90s, has had a good season in his NAPA Auto Parts Honda with wins at Long Beach and Road America, a trio of runner-up finishes and one third place. But Newgarden owns four wins, a pair of seconds, a third and three fourths in addition to leading the most laps (490) in his Penske Chevy.

Still, Laguna pays double points so 41 isn’t insurmountable.

“I think it’s been a generally good season but the No. 2 car (Newgarden) has had a slightly better season, “ continued the 2016 Indy 500 winner. “I think we’ve made a lot of improvements in some areas where we struggled last year and we’ve had some bad luck in the second half that cost us dearly.

“But we’ve got some semblance of an opportunity, I guess, at Laguna. We’re definitely going to need to have things come our way a little bit. But I’ve got the same mindset I’ve had all year: show up and win. If I can do that I can be pretty content.”

Smitten with the sounds and smells of CART cars when he was aged 3-10, Rossi began his career at the Skip Barber School at Laguna and has logged many laps at the scenic, historic 2.25-mile track that hasn’t hosted IndyCar in 15 years.

“I cut my teeth there,” he continued. “And I have a lot of laps there — although they’re pretty incomparable to what I’ll be driving in two weeks.”

Rossi figures passing will be at a premium and qualifying up front is paramount.

“I’ve got no idea about passing zones — it’s a very low-grip surface, one of those tracks you’ll see cars sliding around a lot and guys working the wheel. It’s pretty tricky,” said the two-time pole winner this season.

“The championship could very well be decided in qualifying. It’s no secret that we’re expecting it to be challenging to pass just because of its history. You’re going to have to be perfect and nail it through all three rounds. The guy that’s on the pole, if he’s one of the guys in the championship fight, it’s going to make his job to win the thing a whole lot easier.”