Rossi Wins Watkins Glen From Pole

Alexander Rossi takes checkered flag at Watkins Glen
Alexander Rossi won the 2017 INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen by almost one second over Scott Dixon. | Photo: Bret Kelley / INDYCAR

The penultimate race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season at Watkins Glen International featured a first-time pole sitter, a wet start and the second career win for Alexander Rossi.

Series officials declared the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen a wet start. The designation required all teams to run at least one green-flag lap on Firestone rain tires. Additionally, all rules regarding primary and alternate tires were not enforced.

Rossi started from pole in the No. 98 Andretti Autosport Honda, his first qualifying triumph since joining the series in 2016. Rossi pitted along with the rest of the field except for Max Chilton and JR Hildebrand at the conclusion of Lap 1 to switch from wet to dry tires.

The American driver lost the lead to Helio Castroneves on Lap 2 and had a rough first pit stop on Lap 15 during the race’s second full-course caution. A faulty fuel probe caused Rossi’s car to not get enough fuel, prompting an unscheduled pit stop nine laps later.

The stop put Rossi out of sequence with the leaders but a subsequent caution on Lap 27 saw the leaders pit while Rossi stayed out, effectively putting him back on the same strategy and in front of the field.

Aside from the the last round of pit stops, Rossi remained out front for the remainder of the race, taking the white flag with a 0.7-second advantage over Scott Dixon and the checkered flag by a gap of just less than a second.

Podium finishers celebrate at Watkins Glen
Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrate their podium finishes at Watkins Glen. | Photo: Chris Jones / INDYCAR

The victory was Rossi’s first of 2017 and the second of his career. His first win came at the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. The performance marked Andretti’s 57th win in Indy car competition and the team’s first at Watkins Glen.

“We had a fast car,” said Rossi about his battle at the end with Dixon. “I knew we had a fast car because we were hitting a fuel number before the final stop and we had pace.

“I knew he was going to be pushing like hell at the end, and so it was really 12 qualifying laps, and I had the car to do it. We had time, we had the pace, the performance, the tire life, everything was going our way.

“A huge hats off to Andretti Autosport. Thank you to NAPA Auto Parts, thank you to Honda. We’re coming really hard for 2018.”

Scott Dixon’s finish of second in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was his sixth podium finish in eight starts at The Glen and his seventh podium finish of 2017. Dixon and Rossi traded fast laps at the end of the race with Dixon’s 1:24.1463 the fastest of the two.

“I’m kind of shocked we ended up where we did,” said Dixon of his performance. “We had to pass a lot of cars. I locked up coming in on the first stop on the wet (tires), and it wouldn’t downshift, so almost stalled the car, got into the pits and we couldn’t fuel it.

“And then we had a fumble later, we lost another four or five spots, so we had to pass a lot of cars today. It was definitely a lot of work, and I think the yellow just fell kind of not really our way, so it was one of those things.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay completed the podium, his third podium finish of 2017 and his best performance at Watkins Glen since his victory in 2006.

Early leader Helio Castroneves finished in the fourth position, the best of the Team Penske quartet which appeared to run a setup that anticipated rain to affect the race but none came after the wet start.

Graham Rahal completed the top five in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda. The finish keeps him mathematically eligible to fight for the championship in two weeks.

Will Power, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton, Simon Pagenaud and Carlos Munoz completed the top 10 with Honda holding a 6-4 advantage.

Cautions Help Rossi, Tighten Championship Fight

Two of the race’s four yellow flags involved Rossi’s teammate Takuma Sato, calling into question whether the team had any impact on the incidents that brought out the full-course cautions.

The first caution came on Lap 6 for the stranded car of James Hinchcliffe in Turn 9. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was unable to continue and retired from the race after completing five laps.

The second was on Lap 15 when Sato pulled off course in Turn 6. At the time, Castroneves was leading Rossi and Dixon. Off strategy, the caution allowed Spencer Pigot to get to the lead representing the Ed Carpenter Racing driver’s first laps led in IndyCar competition.

The third caution flag flew on Lap 27 and was called by INDYCAR for smoke from Sato’s car. Replays and information from officials indicate that the Japanese driver spun and continued on his own. The caution came three laps after Rossi made his unscheduled pit stop and subsequent pit stops under yellow-flag conditions vaulted him to the lead on the restart at the end of Lap 29.

The final caution had more far-reaching effects on the championship fight heading into the last race of the season. On Lap 45, points leader Josef Newgarden made left-side contact with the wall at pit exit. His reduced velocity caused Sebastien Bourdais to get into the back of him causing damage to both cars.

Josef Newgarden exits bus stop at Watkins Glen
Josef Newgarden brought out the fourth caution when made contact with the wall at pit exit, relegating him to a finish of 18th. | Photo: Bret Kelley / INDYCAR

“I think I just made a mistake,” said Newgarden regarding the incident. “Got wide on the exit there. I made a mistake in the pit box is what started it, I slid past my pit box and that made it difficult for the guys to give me a fast stop.

“So that was on me, and then I left the pit lane, thought I had beaten Will (Power), then he buttoned off real early and had a great launch. Then, I was watching him and I think I just made another mistake.

“Too much wheel, too much speed with not enough grip on the tires, and into the wall it went, and a couple of guys went with me.”

The No. 2 Chevrolet of Newgarden lost two laps while repairs were made to the car and finished in the 18th position. The misfortune coupled with Dixon’s podium reduces the points differential between the two drivers to three with Newgarden at 560 and Dixon at 557.

Beyond the top two, Castroneves is 22 points behind Newgarden with 538 points while Pagenaud is another 12 points back with 526. Power, Rossi and Rahal complete the top seven with 492, 476 and 466 points, respectively, and are the only other drivers technically able to overtake Newgarden with double points on offer at the season-ending race at Sonoma Raceway.

The series will head to Sonoma to crown a champion on the weekend of Sept. 15–17. Several teams are expected to field extra cars leading to a larger grid than normal. The race will air on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. EDT on Sept. 17.

Comment here...