Fresh off his class win with Honda at the Baja 1000, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi says he’s taking a new approach into the 2022 season.
The 2016 Indy 500 winner has been a steady presence at IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship three or four longest endurance races for many years, has added the Bathurst 1000 to his calendar in Australia, and just completed his third participation in the legendary off-road race.
While he’s enjoyed the extracurricular activities, two down years in the NTT IndyCar Series where he’s gone winless and placed no higher than ninth in the championship — after earning second in 2018 and third in 2019 — has inspired Rossi to simplify his upcoming season.
As the defending winner of January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona with Wayne Taylor Racing, Rossi is expected to participate in the race, but once IMSA’s curtain raiser is over, the 30-year-old intends to keep his calendar free of distractions once the IndyCar season kicks off in February.
“One of the main reasons I’m not really looking at anything on the horizon for 2022, aside from the 24 Hours, is I just want to make sure that every ounce of focus and time and mental capacities is solely on the IndyCar program and what we have going on there,” Rossi said.
“It’s a critical year for me in a lot of respects, and I just want to make sure that what we’re doing with all the other stuff, I’ll revisit in the future. But it’s not on my immediate horizon.”
Driving the decision to downsize his schedule, Rossi enters 2022 in the final year of his contract with Andretti Autosport. Although there are mounting questions as to whether he’ll stay with the team for 2023 and beyond, the upcoming season is an important one for the Californian who wants to raise his value on the free agent market.
Shrugging off two tough years of misfortune and overcoming the speed of teammate Colton Herta will be critical for the seven-time IndyCar race winner. Figuring out what went wrong from 2020-21 is the first step of the process.
“You’ve got to learn from your deficits and where you’re not good enough,” Rossi said. “And honestly, it all starts back in 2020. At the beginning, we had the addition of the aeroscreen, which changed a lot of the way that you drive [the car] to the way it’s set up. Couple that with the huge change in schedules and limited testing and practice time and everything, and that was really our 2020. In the second half of the year, we found some direction, and we found some things that were good.”
With a year of learning how to tune the No. 27 Honda to perform with the 60-pound aeroscreen safety device mounted atop the cockpit, Rossi and his Andretti engineers expected to apply batch adjustments to their chassis setups to unlock greater performance in 2021. Within the four-car squad, only Herta and the No. 26 Honda engineers were able to crack the code as they took three poles, three wins and fifth in the championship.
“I think we got a lot of the correlation, from how do we need to offset our race-winning setups for the aeroscreen, and I think we went into 2021 with really high hopes of how it was all going to shake out,” Rossi continued. “And if anything, we went into it, I’m guilty of it of, ‘Oh, this is going to be rectified, it’s going to be easy, we’ve got it sorted out, we’re just going to go win’ — and that’s the wrong attitude to have.
“We had some glimpses of really positive things we are still building on going into next year, but purely next year, a championship is really irrelevant. In a lot of respects, we just need to get back to winning races. We need to show up at the racetrack, enjoy what we do, don’t think about what’s going to happen in September (when the title is decided).”
A return to his usual form is all Rossi wants to achieve. If his simplified approach to 2022 pays off, look for a bidding war to pull him away from Andretti as Arrow McLaren SP, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Team Penske attempt to secure his services.
“Take what you can get, and that needs to be wins and podiums,” he added. “And the rest will — it’s a cliche thing to say — take care of itself. But quite frankly, we haven’t won a race in two years. So we just need to get back to victory lane and then move on from whatever negative things that have happened in the past.”