Rossi wants to be fighting Herta for 2022 IndyCar title


Andretti Autosport-Hondas have been strong on street courses for the past four seasons, and Rossi believes his quarter of the team, the #27 NAPA / AutoNation entry, made a breakthrough on natural road courses in the final third of this season.

But he says the team is still missing vital speed on ovals other than Indianapolis, which next year will comprise Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway (x 2) and World Wide Technology Raceway in Gateway.

He told Motorsport.com: “In August, on our #27 car, we finally dialed in a road course set up which had been our biggest weakness since the beginning. We were really hit and miss – days when we were untouchable and days when we were struggling to transfer out of our Q1 Groups. So we’d go from road course to road course changing everything for the individual circuit.

“Then we went to Laguna Seca for a test, using what was a known setup for us. We weren’t expecting it to work and it did. Then we went to Portland and it worked for us again, and we qualified on the front row and finished second.

“And then we went to Laguna for the race and that worked yet again. That was a big boost for us going into the offseason.

“I think we still really struggle on short ovals, our main focus this offseason, and using what limited testing we have on improving there. There’s no way we can even consider the championship if we’re nowhere on ovals.”

While Rossi topped and tailed his motorsport year with victories – the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura, and the Baja 1000 in the Honda Ridgeline – his full-time role in IndyCar was a disappointment, finishing 10th in the final standings, a year after finishing ninth. By contrast his 2018 and ’19 seasons saw him clock second and third respectively.

Assessing his season, Rossi commented: “Pace for the most part was good, especially in the second half of the year. Even in the first half, there were a lot of good elements, great races we had going.

“I made too many mistakes in race situations – Gateway comes to mind, and Laguna Seca… is a weird one. But those two stand out as big points [hauls] that got away – we were definitely going to be third in St. Louis and could pretty easily have finished on the podium in Laguna. We were classified pretty much last for both of them, so those two really hurt our final position in the standings.

“Long Beach was a missed opportunity – quite few things broke in the race which made it challenging – and it was another weekend when our cars were so good, it was kinda akin to Nashville [where he was taken out]. It’s heartbreaking when you’re just not getting anything, when none of the weekends are happening in a straightforward way.”

However, Rossi believes that similar points standings disguise the fact that Andretti Autosport made progress as a whole from last year to this and that it can make similar progress in the season ahead.

“Everyone was operating better, doing a better job,” he said, “so we just need to do move on, and hit the ground running in 2022.

“From my side, nothing much is changing from a personnel standpoint – Jeremy Milless remains my race engineer, Rob Edwards will still be my strategist, and our relationship is as strong as ever. We’re all bummed for each other about how 2021 went, you can’t pinpoint blame on anyone – I’ve made mistakes, the team’s made mistakes, we’ve missed on setups.

“But it’s not like one person is consistently letting the team down, there aren’t any weak links.

“On my side, I think it’s almost a mindset that I need to change. I went into this year with a lot of expectations on everyone to rebound from 2020, and it did, performance-wise, not results-wise. The season started out decent from a qualifying/speed-standpoint, and then the Texas issues really hurt us and it snowballed.

“May started OK, but then we were almost immediately out of the 500, so that takes the wind out of everyone’s sails. We were fighting back in Detroit and had the potential to win the race and… couldn’t get it done.

“The thing is, you can’t begin the year with that many things going wrong because it just sucks the air out of everyone and it just becomes hard . You start trying almost too hard.

“So now we just move on with a fresh slate and try again.”

Comparisons with Colton Herta

It escaped no one’s notice that for the second straight year, Herta was the only race winner for Andretti Autosport’s IndyCar squad, this time racking up three triumphs. On the subject of how to prevent his sensationally quick young teammate becoming the de facto team leader among AA’s drivers, Rossi was blunt in his assessment.

“I think Colton and I have different approaches to racing. He’s pretty hands-off, shows up to the track and does the job,” he commented. “I’m a bit more involved on a week to week basis, (a) because of my location and (b) because that’s just the type of person that I am.

“But no question he’s done a fantastic job, and in 2021 he just beat me, straight up. I think there were events where we were better but we didn’t really capitalize on it. If I look at Nashville, he did better than us, and if I look at Laguna he got the better of us. Everywhere else I think we were pretty close, but his worse days were quite a bit better than my worse days – that was the big separation.

“Obviously he won three times and we didn’t win any, but you look at Detroit, and you look at Nashville – where he and I were on different strategies – I was on the same one as Marcus [Ericsson, eventual winner] and didn’t get very far down the road with that one.

“At Long Beach, he and I were the class of the field for most of the weekend and we were expecting be on the front row and fight it out in the race. We could see the cars were good enough to win from really anywhere but my car broke.

“So to your point, he’s definitely making me work hard, there’s a lot of things that I’m doing to make sure I’m as prepared as possible going into St. Pete in February. And hopefully we can get a situation where he and I have a little bit better luck over the season, and we can be fighting each other for the championship.

“Andretti Autosport in a lot of tracks has the cars to beat, and it has the engineering prowess to be in the conversation at the end of the year, so it’s unfortunate that neither of us have been there since 2019.

“That needs to change. One of us – hopefully both of us – needs to be in the championship fight come the last race in 2022. If you look at Colton, winning three races – the same as Alex Palou [champion] – but only finishing fifth in the championship… That shows all of us need to minimize these bad days. They just can’t happen if you want to beat the other teams. Being fast alone isn’t good enough.”

For Rossi’s reflections on the Baja 1000, and further thoughts on his season with Andretti Autosport and IndyCar in general, check out This Week with Will Buxton, Ep. 15. Rossi interview starts at 22m44sec.

 

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