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.”