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 [polesitter] 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 [place] 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 [tire degradation] 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 [Firestone] 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 [race strategist] Rob [Edwards] 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 [Sylvester Stallone’s character] 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…”