Milless on Rossi’s Road America magic

Everyone in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock would like to know the secret behind Alexander Rossi’s all-conquering chassis setup on Sunday at Road America.

Even his Andretti Autosport race engineer, Jeremy Milless, who was responsible for the magical settings that allowed Rossi to wander out to a 28.4-second victory, is included in that group.

“Uh…I don’t know. I wish I did…I’d do it every weekend!” a laughing Milless told RACER. “We just unloaded really strong and we would have been fastest in the first session, but we didn’t get our overtake lap in because it went red, or we would have been fastest in that section. Then were fastest in the second session and then the third session we had an engine issue, so that session was a giveaway.

“I think we got behind a little bit in qualifying and Colton Herta out-did us because we were just kind of a session behind, but I think barring those couple things, we would have been fastest in every session. I wish I had the answer on exactly why it worked out that way, but I would say we just unloaded quick and we just buttoned down a couple little things and it was a good weekend.”

Outside of his flawless work inside the car, the key to Rossi’s staggering performance in the No. 27 Honda was tire management, and more specifically, being able to extend the peak performance of Firestone’s primary and alternate tires throughout each stint. As his rivals were slipping and sliding on worn tires, Rossi was setting blistering laps from start to finish, which set the crushing defeat in motion..

“You work on the balance of the car and generally the better and better you get it the easier it is on the tires,” Milless said. “Any time you have any of those little steering corrections on corner entry and any correction exiting the corner, the tire heat just goes up. So anything you can do to make the car not do that makes the driver and the tires happier — you tend to wear them less than you would have otherwise.

“There was a lot of time in the race where we were giving Alex gaps to second and he was doing a lap time that he knew he could do the whole time. So on our black tire runs we had zero and it was just because he could tell, in feeling the car, that he wasn’t stressing it that hard and he could just do that lap time the entire stint.”

Rossi looked to have the race win in hand for most of the 55-lap contest, but his race engineer wouldn’t allow such a notion to set in on the timing stand.

“I was worried about Colton the whole time because we started on the new reds and he started on used reds, and I knew he had new to go at the end and I didn’t know if the track was going to come around and make the new reds good, because I knew Colton had at least the same pace as us if not even more,” Milless said.

“I was worried about him the whole time. My heart kept pounding on, and Rob was like, ‘Keep gapping, keep gapping… “There are optimal uses of overtake you can use to just give you a little lap time for the least amount of overtake so we were doing that quite a bit of the race just still trying to gap.”

Known for his smarts and sense of humor, Milless uncorked a reference from the worst racing movie ever made to describe Rossi’s untroubled run to victory lane.

“He didn’t say much on the radio all day,” he continued. “I always joke around about the movie “Driven” and we always like calling him Joe Tanto. He was just out there humming and picking up quarters with his tires and stuff…

“We asked how the car was once and he said the car is awesome and he asked for a half turn of wing out from going from reds to blacks. We put the half turn in for the final stint and that was it. Small tire pressure adjustment at one point, because we were starting to just go faster so we were getting more heat in the tires and I had to adjust them to get them where I wanted. Then pretty much just watched…”

Strong TV numbers for Rossi’s runaway Road America win

Alexander Rossi’s dominant victory at Road America last Sunday didn’t deter viewers as NBC Sports garnered its largest IndyCar audience of 2019 (excluding the Indianapolis 500).

The REV Group Grand Prix at the historic Wisconsin road course, in which Rossi ran unchallenged to win by 30 seconds, drew 1.104 million viewers with a 0.77 rating, and averaged 1.109 million viewers TAD (total audience delivery) as it became NBC’s most-watched race sans Indy.

In five NBC races, the NTT IndyCar series is up 19 percent over the same number of races on ABC a year ago and is averaging 2.319 million viewers.

Mid-Ohio, Portland and the season-finale at Laguna Seca will be the final three NBC races of this season.

The city of Indianapolis led the local markets last Sunday with a 3.59 rating, followed by Milwaukee at 2.61 and Tulsa at 2.14.

The next IndyCar race will be July 14 at Toronto on NBCSN.

Dixon last to fifth in a stirring drive at Road America

Scott Dixon may have saved his season with a memorable drive in the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America, recovering from a first-lap incident that dropped him to last and charging through the field to finish fifth.

The reigning and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion started 12th and was in the frantic mid-pack mix on the opening lap when he drifted wide, the right side of his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda brushing over the curbing as the field rushed into Turn 5.

Attempting to reposition a decent turn-in angle, Dixon was tagged from behind by Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport Honda, and he spun into the runoff area.

The rest of the field went past as Dixon gathered himself and whipped his Honda around to rejoin the fight –- roughly 10 seconds behind and last among the 23 drivers.

At that moment, the biggest benefit for Dixon was the fact he was one of only five drivers to start the 55-lap race on the preferred primary (black sidewall) tires. Pushing hard, he made rapid progress through the ranks — 13th by Lap 10; closing on the top 10 when, on Lap 15, his crew switched the 45-time Indy car race winner over to a set of alternate (red sidewall) tires.

It then became a track position game where in-laps and out-laps were critical, combined with being on the preferred tire strategy. It all played into Dixon’s favor as he took on scuffed primary tires on the last two pit stops – Lap 27 and 41 – and began making real inroads into the top 10.

On Lap 53, Dixon was in seventh and running down James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Both were gaining on rookie pole-sitter Colton Herta, holding fifth but struggling with pace on the alternates.

Dixon stormed past Hinchcliffe on the following lap, then made quick work of Herta’s fading No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.

In all, Dixon accumulated a race-high 18 passes en route to his sixth top-five finish of the season.

“We were almost 10 seconds behind the field, and we had to try and catch up,” he said after the grueling effort. “It’s racing, man. You get into these issues where you get the accordion effect. Got tapped from behind, spun us around and we tried to make the best of the day, to be honest — and a fifth place was pretty good.

“Luckily, we’re at a track where you can use the strategy a little bit and you can pass if you’ve got a fast car.”

Dixon currently sits fourth in the championship standings with 308 points, 94 behind leader Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) and 87 behind race winner Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport).

“I think we’re at a point in the season where we need to make a run, and when the two leaders are taking all the points, it makes it hard to close the gap. So it’s frustrating,” Dixon added. “We’ve really got nothing to lose. When I went around Marco in 13 — something like that I would usually have waited a lap or at least the next corner. But we’ve got nothing to lose right now. It’s kind of a fun way to race.

“We’re 94 points back. It’s kind of a fun way to race. We’ve been this far back in previous championships and come close or won. The top two, Josef and Rossi, are definitely doing a fantastic job, and credit to them.”

The IndyCar stewards were called on multiple occasions to investigate several tough, hard-nosed, on-track incidents, including the opening-lap collision involving Hunter-Reay and Dixon. No penalties were issued.

“As long as it stays that way,” said Dixon. “I think for us all, all we try to do is make sure we know how we can race. I asked specifically at the driver’s meeting if we can do what Rossi did last year, where he got on the corner and just ran the other guy (Graham Rahal) off (in Turn 5). And they said it was fine, so I guess it’s pretty much have at it.”

Penske drivers relegated to best-of-the-rest at Road America

Sunday’s spanking by Alexander Rossi at the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America can be summed up in the reactions of Team Penske’s Will Power and Josef Newgarden.

“I never saw him (Rossi) all day,” said Power, who finished in second place.

“Wow,” replied Newgarden when told how far behind the leader he was halfway through the race. “That’s impressive.”

Rossi’s 28-second victory over Team Penske indicated the Andretti Autosport driver’s amazing pace and the fact the most successful team in IndyCar history had nothing for him on the 4-mile road course.

“It’s hard for me to understand how he can be so fast for a whole stint,” said Power, who’s delivered several butt-kickings of that ilk among his 35 career wins. “My car didn’t feel bad — it had reasonable balance and I guess if Alex wasn’t in the race I would have had a good car.

“But it’s hard to say you had a good car when you get beat like that.”

Newgarden, who retained the championship point lead, was just as perplexed as his teammate.

“He was a half a second a lap quicker for 55 laps? Obviously, we didn’t have enough today … we were just a little shy. OK, I guess a lot shy. I thought we had a great package but we’ve got to make it a bit stronger. Alex and Andretti were too good for us today, so we gotta get back to the drawing board.”

The race went the distance without any yellow flags, but neither Penske driver reckoned it would have mattered if there had been one. The only possible opportunity came when a piece of rumble strip came loose and was lying on the track.

“It was off line and no hazard,” said Newgarden, whose three wins still lead the way in 2019.

Added Power: “Maybe we should have complained and yelled it was dangerous and, ‘Where’s the caution?’” he said with a grin. “Naw, I don’t think a yellow would have mattered. I think the only thing that might have helped us was rain.”

Newgarden was behind from the get-go, after losing three spots at the start.

“The left side was not the place to be on the start and we lost a lot of ground, so we made a nice recovery,” said the 2017 IndyCar champion. “Man, it was tough keeping Graham (Rahal) and those guys behind us the last 10 laps, so a podium was a good result.”

Asked if it was tough to concentrate with a huge lead like Rossi had, Newgarden replied: “No, I find it quite lovely to be that far ahead.”

Power, still winless this season, left Sunday night scratching his head.

“What are we missing? It’s tough to pinpoint that but for me to knock off half a second a lap I’d have had to use push-to-pass on every lap. We leave trying to understand how we can come back and be closer next year.

“Man, it’s hard to win in IndyCar these days. For someone to win with that kind of an advantage, that’s rare.”

 

Rossi rules from start to finish at Road America

Alexander Rossi turned frustrations of three runner-up results in the last four races into motivation with a domination victory in the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America. The 27-year-old Californian led an event record 54 laps en route to winning by commanding 28.439s over runner-up Will Power.

After starting second, Rossi tucked in behind polesitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag. The long main straightaway played favorably for Rossi as he received a brief tow from the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda, which was enough to pull a move to the outside entering Turn 1. Both drivers battled wheel-to-wheel for the lead before the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda of Rossi pulled ahead on the exit of Turn 3.

Ultimately, Rossi was untouched for the remainder of the race, only relinquishing the lead during the final pit stop sequence.

“I mean, it’s hurt,” said Rossi, now a seven-time winner in the NTT IndyCar Series, of his string of near-misses. “Obviously, you don’t want to complain too much about getting second places because they are good results, but we knew we had the pace. Ever since Texas when GESS Capstone came on board and we had a new partnership and we came up short again, the motivation for this week was higher than ever. So we were able to execute and these guys (pointing to the No. 27 crew) can’t do without.”

After losing the lead, Herta then came under attack from the Power’s Team Penske Verizon Chevrolet of Power in third, but the rookie managed to fend off the Australian. Moments later, the mid-pack became crowded entering Turn 5 as Scott Dixon, running 12th, slid over the outside curbing and lost the handling on entry and locked up briefly. As a result, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver was hit from behind and spun by Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. The reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion sat stagnant briefly before whipping around and rejoining the 23-car field in last.

Dixon, running on the preferred primary (black sidewall) Firestone tire compound, gathered himself back up before starting a remarkable charge back up through the field, running as high as 13th by Lap 11.

While Rossi was padding a comfortable lead, Power opted to make a daring move to the outside of Herta entering Turn 5. The tight contest came with contact as the left rear of Power made contact with the right front of Herta, knocking the polesitter sideways momentarily.

However, that was only the start of a sequence of issues for Herta. When he came down to pit at the end of the lap, his team struggled with a fueling issue on the car, putting in a lengthy stop as they switched him from scuff alternate (red sidewall) tires to the primary, falling to ninth.

The leader pitted on the next lap for primaries and held an eight-second gap by the end of the first round of pit stops on Lap 15.

On Lap 20, Herta was the centerpiece of the action once again while battling with Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud for sixth. The two came together, which allowed the Chip Ganassi Racing cars of Dixon and Rosenqvist to squeeze by them both.

 

With only one retirement on the day came (on Lap 18 after Marco Andretti encountered a mechanical issue on his No. 98 Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb-Agajanian Honda), the race went caution-free. There was some concern when a chunk of curbing came up at Turn 7 on Lap 33, but it was deemed to be sufficiently off the racing line.

With the front-runners looking settled, Herta made his final pit stop on Lap 42 and opted to go with a set of sticker alternates — unlike his competitors. He rejoined in the thick of battle with fellow Honda men Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe.

Herta managed to make it interesting early, getting around Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Setting his sights on Rahal, he pushed too hard and locked up going into Turn 5 on Lap 46.

That proved to be a sign of things to come, as Herta’s tires began to wear heavily. With two laps to go, the 19-year-old came under attack from Dixon, Hinchcliffe and Rosenqvist. Despite a last-gasp defensive effort, Herta ultimately fell back to finish eighth.

In the end, Rossi provided the 64th win for Andretti Autosport and closed to within seven points on championship leader and third-place finisher, Josef Newgarden.

Additional details to follow.

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