Alexander Rossi enters the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season trying to put the last two years of frustration in his rear view mirror.
Simply put, they were not up to the standard Rossi showcased as a pure championship threat in 2018 and 2019. Over those two years, he combined for five wins, 15 podiums and five poles en route to leading 597 of 4,364 laps. In ‘18, he posted a career-best 5.7 average finish and finished second in the championship. While slightly less sensational, his average finish the following season of 6.4 to end up third in the title race was still remarkable.
Then, everything seemingly flipped on its head for the driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda.
The 2020 season featured zero wins, five podiums (which were also his only top fives) and an average finish of 12.1 while sliding to ninth in the final standings. It was even more troubling last year as he failed to find Victory Lane yet again, reaching the podium only once with two additional top fives for an end-of-year average finish of 12.3 and 10th in the championship. Perhaps even more staggering was watching his stellar mark of dominating races and leading laps falling significantly as he tallied a combined total of 85 laps led (two in 2021) over a stretch of 3,182 laps.
Needless to say, the off-season provided the perfect opportunity for both team and driver to reflect and figure out the next step of preparation for this next campaign.
“One of the things that we all look at in the off-season and Andretti does as a whole is we really look at our weaknesses,” Rossi told TobyChristie.com. “I know that’s a cliche thing to say, but we dedicate a huge amount of time to very specific areas. And for us, it’s ovals. I think that we really struggle on every oval really, except Indianapolis. So that was a huge element of focus for us from an engineering standpoint.
“From a personal standpoint, I think when we look back at the past two years, I think that there was some carry-on disappointment from 2020 that affected me in terms of just trying to make it all up in short windows and opportunities. I made too many mistakes last year, so I had a lot of self reflection from that standpoint.
“We go through every event in the lead-up. So for St. Pete, for example, we’ve gone through the past two years of St. Pete and what was good and what was bad, and have a plan to hopefully keep the good and get rid of the bad. So I think the preparation, I don’t know that it’s any different than years past, but I think that what we do is at a high level and I’m happy with what the team has done and how we are positioned going into this weekend.”
One significant change for the 30-year-old Californian is a new strategist up on the timing stand for 2022. Brian Barnhart replaces Rob Edwards, who will be allowed to focus more on his role as COO of Andretti Autosport, as the voice in Rossi’s helmet. The new union already started on a somewhat positive note as Rossi went sixth in Friday’s opening practice at St. Petersburg, and then fourth in the final session on Saturday morning. He rolls off 13th for tomorrow’s 100-lap race at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit (noon ET on NBC).
“I’ve had Rob since 2018, so yep, a switch for me,” Rossi said. “I love Brian (Barnhart), aside from Brian Herta, who obviously I have a great relationship with (winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500) but he has his priorities as they should be with Colton (Herta).
“When that [teaming with Barnhart] was proposed as an alternate, I jumped at the opportunity. I think that Brian (Barnhart) is going to be awesome. You know, not only does he know the rule book probably as well or better than the people in race control, but he can dedicate a huge amount of time to it.
“You know, Rob is a very busy man. He has got to look after a lot of different elements of Andretti operation and I have nothing but good things to say about our time together but ultimately, he wears a lot of hats. He’s got a lot of things going on, so it’ll be great for Brian (Barnhart) to come onboard and he can purely show up to the weekend and be focused on the No. 27 car and focus on coming up with the best plan and path for us to be successful on any given weekend.”
Rossi knows firsthand what it’s like to be nearly flawless and still narrowly miss out on a championship. Combine that with the additions of incoming talent like Alex Palou, who drove last year to three wins and eight podiums across 16 races to score an average finish of 7.3 to claim the title, and there’s a feeling like drivers can no longer afford a throwaway race and become the series champion.
“Probably not,” Rossi said. “No, I think these days your mulligan is like 10th. I don’t think you can have DNFs. I mean, I don’t know (Palou’s) stats from last year, but I don’t think he had a DNF. Like, he may have had a race where he had an issue or something, but I don’t think he didn’t not finish a race. [editor’s note: Palou had two retirements in ‘21 – Indianapolis Grand Prix 2, World Wide Technology Raceway.] Yeah, for sure. I think you need that.
“And on top of that, you got to win at least two. You know, you’re not, you’re not going to be in contention without winning two. So I think that those are the two goals: you got to win two, and you got to have your worst day be 10th or 12th. And that’s hard. Like, that’s a very, very tall order. But ultimately, it’s the same for everyone, right? So it’s not that it’s hard for us or hard for anyone else, but when you look at previous years there were only ‘X’ amount of guys that could really fight for wins and were going to be there every weekend. So if you had a bad day, it was maybe fifth, maybe a sixth type of thing. Now, it’s legitimately 10th or 11th because there are nine or 10 guys that are quick and are good and can’t be fighting for a win.
“I think you have to go into events with that in mind and have to be patient. You know, I think that that’s something that I’m going to have a huge focus on this year. You want to start out the year with a bang and you want to start out the year on a podium, winning the race, but this series, it ebbs and flows so much.”