After a thrilling end to Saturday’s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Phoenix, podium finishers Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi quashed any notion of lingering on-track issues from the season-opening crash that denied Wickens an improbable win at St. Petersburg.
Under the ISM Raceway lights, Wickens inherited the race lead under caution when Team Penske brought Josef Newgarden in to pit after Ed Jones’ crash on lap 229; Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe and Rossi also stayed out. Newgarden came out of the pits fourth, caught Rossi shortly after the restart and set his sights on the SPM duo. For a driver in his first IndyCar oval race, Wickens deftly held off Newgarden for several laps, but ultimately his tires were no match for the defending series champion.
Rossi, whose 53 passes on the night were the most of any driver, was quick to approach Wickens’ car to shake hands. Asked after the race if the battle up front was a preview of this season’s championship fight to come, Rossi was quick to bring up the end result at St. Pete – and show that any fight among these young North American drivers is, for now, going to be fun.
“Rob should definitely have two podiums right now, so I think so, “Rossi said. “It’s great to be up here this weekend.”
Wickens’ reply – “About time you said it!” – drew laughs.
“It’s good to be here with [Robert],” Rossi continued, “and obviously Josef has proved what he’s capable of already, carrying the No. 1. Yeah, we all have a very long season ahead of us. By no means does this mean that we’ve figured it out. A whole new set of challenges approach us in about five days [at Long Beach].”
Rossi now sits second in points, five points behind Newgarden and two ahead of Sebastien Bourdais. Wickens, who led 44 laps Saturday, is currently eighth.
Wickens opened his IndyCar career by leading five times for 69 laps in the 110-lap street race, only to find himself against the wall after Rossi tried to dive under him going into Turn 1.