Alexander Rossi Wins at Watkins Glen

The last time Alexander Rossi had a week this good, he won the Indianapolis 500.

After signing a two-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport this week, and earning his first career pole in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Rossi took the checkered flag today at Watkins Glen. The American led a race-high 32 laps on his way to victory, and is now 84 points out of the championship lead heading into the season finale at Sonoma. His last five races have resulted in three podiums, and a pair of sixth place finishes.

Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay joined Rossi on the podium on Sunday. Both drivers needed a solid result, for different reasons. Dixon is aiming for his fifth series championship, and is just three points out of the lead heading to Sonoma. Hunter-Reay has had a dreadful season of bad luck, and hard crashes. Helio Castroneves was the top finisher for Team Penske in fourth, and Graham Rahal rounded out the top five, in what was a great weekend for Honda.

IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen Box Score

Rossi overcame a malfunctioning fuel probe on his first pit stop that forced him to make an unscheduled stop. He regained the lead on Lap 29, and built up a lead of more than 12 seconds at one point. He closed the race strong, holding off Dixon, a four-time Watkins Glen winner. It’s his second win, in what was nearly a perfect weekend for the team.

The biggest moment of the race happened during the final pit stops, when Josef Newgarden came out of pit lane a little too hot, trying to beat teammate Will Power. Newgarden locked his cold front tires, slid off into the guardrail, and then was hit from behind by Sebastien Bourdais. The damage was significant for Newgarden, and he fell a lap behind the pack after repairs to his Penske Chevrolet. It was a punch to the gut for Newgarden, who had a car destined for the podium. The end result was an 18th place finish, and a championship lead that was cut to three points.

Power held on for a sixth place finish, and still has an outside shot at the championship in two weeks. Ganassi teammates Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton held on for seventh and eighth, while Simon Pagenaud and Carlos Munoz rounded out the top ten. If Pagenaud can complete every lap at Sonoma, he will become just the second driver in IndyCar history (Tony Kanaan, 2004) to complete every lap in a season.

It was a solid day for AJ Foyt Racing, with Conor Daly coming home in the 11th spot. Both drivers finished in the top ten last weekend at Gateway. Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones, Jack Harvey, and JR Hildebrand also scored top 15 finishes.

Trouble once again found Kanaan, as he also made contact with the guardrail exiting pit lane on his final stop. Takuma Sato had multiple issues throughout the day, and finished 19th. James Hinchcliffe only lasted five laps, as a mechanical issue ended his day very early. The championship is still in reach for seven drivers, with Newgarden, Dixon (-3), and Castroneves (-22) leading the charge. Both Penske drivers are searching for their first title, and it could be the last IndyCar race for Castroneves, outside of the Indianapolis 500.

There is one race remaining in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. A champion will be crowned in two weeks, in the season finale at Sonoma. The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on September 17 will award double-points. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 6:30 PM ET on Sunday.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

Simon Pagenaud: “We fought for the best finish we could today in the Menards Chevrolet. We were really prepared for a wet race, and if it would have been run in the rain, I think we would have been tough to beat. But we just had too much downforce to run in the dry and make up the ground we needed to. Still, everyone on the team did a good job to finish ninth and we come out of Watkins Glen still in the hunt for the championship. We know what it takes to win at Sonoma and that’s what we’ll be fighting for (in Sonoma).”

Josef Newgarden: “It was kind of an eventful day for the DeVilbiss Chevrolet team. I felt like we were in a good position until that final pit stop. No excuse for it. It was my fault. I saw Will (Power) leave right in front of us and I just locked it up and slid over into the wall. Then Sebastien (Bourdais) got into the back of me. It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing I can do about it. We’ll go to Sonoma in a couple of weeks and race for it.”

Helio Castroneves: “The Hitachi Chevy was so awesome today, and it was a great job by the No. 3 car guys. We were really fast out there – it’s been a long time since I was able to go flat out through the carousel in the race, but we were doing that today. We had some issues on the black Firestone tires, but we were able to recover and really pushed hard there to finish fourth. I feel really bad for Josef (Newgarden) with his incident. It’s unfortunate for the team, but it’s mixed feelings for me because it tightens up the championship. We definitely have a good chance heading into Sonoma and I feel really good about our setup there. We’ll be ready to go for it and finish strong.”

Conor Daly: “I was really happy with our car today-it was a really good race car. We found ourselves slightly short in sixth gear, so I couldn’t make the moves I’d like to. I feel like we should have finished higher, but we did the best we could with what we had and made good adjustments during the race. It was a decent result.”

James Hinchcliffe: “About Lap 2, I started having problems getting into fourth gear. It would kind rev off the limiter, it would skip the gear sometimes, it would clunk in. I knew we had a little bit of a problem, and then coming out of Turn 8, shifted to third and everything messed up in the gearbox and went down to first gear, and I think did some pretty big damage to the gearbox. It’s really too bad. We didn’t have the best qualifying and wasn’t the best weekend for us, but we were confident we could pull something off in the race – good strategy, smart decisions. Tough day for the Arrow Electronics guys but we’ll bounce back in Sonoma.”

Jack Harvey: “I think we accomplished everything we wanted to coming into this weekend. To be fair, I was getting quicker and quicker. I thought we had a dream situation the way the first yellow fell, but I was getting killed down the front straight and up to the bus stop. The team made a few changes towards the end of the race, and our pace came back immediately, I got into a good rhythm and we finished the race. There are a few things for Sonoma that we’ll need to work on, but I thought the weekend overall was pretty good and a good learning experience.”

Max Chilton: “I didn’t think we had the fastest car, but the team gave me a great strategy and good pit stops. I think I raced pretty well to be fair, and it’s really great for Gallagher to come out with a positive result from where we started in the back. But there’s Sonoma next and we are looking forward to an even better result there.”

Scott Dixon: “It was definitely an exciting day for the No. 9 NTT Data car. I locked up the tires on the first stop and I don’t think we got any fuel. We had to save fuel on the next stint as a result and battled our way back. I think we passed a lot of cars today and it was fun to contend with (Alexander) Rossi there for the win. Big congrats to him and good to see Honda run strong at Watkins Glen.”

Tony Kanaan: “Not a great way to end our weekend here at Watkins Glen. It’s unfortunate that we got caught up in that pit out incident after the last round of stops. It all happened right in front of me and I just locked up on cold tires. We were actually having a pretty good day and the car was good up until that point. We were actually moving up the field little by little, and I think we could’ve gotten a top-10 finish here today.”

Will Power: “It was just an up and down day for the Verizon Chevrolet group. There were times the car was really fast, but that first set of tires didn’t agree with the car at all. I thought the car was broken. It wouldn’t do anything I wanted it to. After that, it was good. I can’t be unhappy about sixth. I don’t know what kind of legitimate chance at the championship I have, but stranger things have happened, I guess. We’ll go to Sonoma and give it everything we have. ”

Carlos Munoz: “The race was good. We did have a little problem and we lost some positions on one stop. The first stint was really good on the reds. We had an intermediate setup, so it was a compromise in case it rained, but we never had rain in the race which we were expecting. There was more downforce so it was slower on the straights. We have another top 10. I think that’s three in a row, so we have to continue to do that.”

Graham Rahal: “It was a good day. There was a lot of passing because a lot of us expected rain and with the downforce levels being all over the board, there were some guys that were really draggy and some guys a little more rimmed. I was right in the middle. There was a lot of passing going on all over the place. We’re going to fight on here. I didn’t have anything to lose (in the championship fight) coming here but as we saw today with (Josef) Newgarden, things can happen so fast. We’re out of winning the championship, but we’re certainly not out of finishing the top three or four. We’re seventh in the points. The way I look at it is, we didn’t score points in the first four races of the year, but we were the hottest team through the middle of the season and it got us back in contention. We didn’t score as many points as we would have liked, but we have a lot to be proud of. We’re going to be in attack mode for sure. It’s a shame the last two races didn’t go our way when they should have because we would have been right in the middle of the title fight, but that’s the way it goes. That’s racing.”

Sebastien Bourdais: (About the incident with Newgarden): “I was going to be pretty high myself exiting pit lane, but I think I was going to be OK. Where (Josef) Newgarden hit, he bounced off and there was nowhere to go. I had a slight reaction, like you do, and I’m sure TK (Kanaan) had the same thing. Because of what’s happening in front of you, you just touch the brakes and you’re on cold tires, so there’s not much you can do. I knew the race was over from that point. It’s a disappointment because we drove a really good race, we had a really good first pit stop, but then we lost some positions. It’s a big fight out there. I could pass, but I was going to run out of push to pass really quick. I did the best I could, but I couldn’t save it there exiting the pits. We were quick, I did the fastest lap of the race, but it’s just a shame we couldn’t finish better.”

Ed Jones: “It was a tough race. The conditions didn’t go as we thought they would. We pit on the first lap for slicks and we were set up for rain, so we were at quite a disadvantage which made it tricky. I thought we would still be on for a decent result, but it wasn’t meant to be. I ended up at the back of the field after the second pit stop as some drivers were on a different strategy and it was an uphill battle form there. It’s a bit frustrating, but I feel like I drove pretty well and I had some good racing.”

Spencer Pigot: “It was an up and down race for us. We were near the back, other times we were near the front and at one point we were leading.  It just flip-flopped throughout the race. I made a mistake at the beginning and spun, dropping us to the back. Then, on the pit stop sequence, we were able to leapfrog the field. It was nice to lead a few laps. I had to top off on fuel and get a new set of tires towards the end, which put us near the back for the final start. We got a few positions back, but overall I thought we would be able to finish a bit higher up. Thanks to the Fuzzy’s guys in the pit lane for doing a great job.

JR Hildebrand: “We had set the car up really banking on rain coming at some point and it just never did. We didn’t have the straight-line speed to hang with as many restarts as there were, so we almost needed some rain. Frankly, I’m actually happy we were able to hang as tough as we did on those restarts. If the weather conditions had been like what was forecasted, it would have been the right call. It’s nobody’s fault. We tried to make some strategy work and it just didn’t end up panning out. I’m proud of my Fuzzy’s Vodka guys for pushing through what’s been a tough weekend. We’ll look back on it and learn some things and now we look forward to the final race of the year in Sonoma.”

Takuma Sato: “We made a good start. Coming up to the hill P2, we were all set very nicely and I felt, basically, no power. We tried to figure out what was going on. I tried to reset the car on the track, it failed. Everything went zero. We pitted, then came back a few laps down and found a waste gate problem. After that, we were back up to speed, but I think at the time we were three laps down. Nothing we could do, but at the end of the day, we had one of the fastest laps. Big congrats to my teammate Alex (Rossi) for his win on the road course and to Ryan (Hunter-Reay) for getting a strong showing. It’s a shame, but as a team, I think we showed trim in the speed so that was a good weekend.”

Marco Andretti: “We just didn’t have pace we need today. After starting in 20th, we were able to get up into the top five with strategy, but then fell back a bit. We had a top-nine finish coming, and then (Sebastien) Bourdais totally dive-bombed us taking both of us off the track. It bent my tie rod and we were just limping home.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “The guys did a really good job on pit lane today – amazing job. It got us a lot of track position. It was strange where the yellows fell. We had to come through the field a couple of times. All in all, we had a pretty good car, we were just lacking a little bit of front grip to keep up to these two. We have to be happy with a podium, but congrats to the No. 98 team and Alexander (Rossi) on his win, he was certainly in top form this weekend.”

Charlie Kimball: “I’m really proud of the No. 83 crew for what they’ve done this weekend. All the way from the problem in the first practice, to qualifying in the top five and then battling back all day today. We didn’t have the best restarts today and part of that is on me and part of it was being light on downforce. I’m proud of the guys, but I think they deserved more. The car was probably a little better than seventh – I think we could’ve been in the top five. I just raced a couple of guys harder than I needed to at that point of the race and with 10 laps to go I was just about out of push-to-pass. That made it a little harder to make up spots at the end, but like I said these guys never gave up and I’m just really proud of them.”

Alexander Rossi: “An amazing job by the whole team today. We had an issue in the beginning with some fuel, the fuel (probe), but whatever. It doesn’t matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s a huge team effort. I’ve talked so much about how much we’ve improved, I’m so happy we’re finally able to win.” (About battle with Scott Dixon at end of race): “We had a fast car. 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.”

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