If Alexander Rossi proved anything on Saturday, it’s to never doubt the resolve of his team.
The 30-year-old Californian started off the weekend’s festivities at Barber Motorsports Park on a positive note after a third-place effort in opening practice on Friday. However, it was met with a harsh start in second practice this morning after crashing hard into the outside Armco barrier in the final of the track’s 17 corners. The impact, primarily with the rear of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda, was severe enough to crack open the gearbox and leave oil on the main straightaway.
Even more, it put a blend of shirts from his and teammate’s crew members at the helm for repairs that included a completely new rear end and new engine. The group had 15 minutes shy of three hours to make the changes ahead of qualifying, which they managed to accomplish with just under 10 minutes remaining.
The herculean effort by the crew was rewarded as Rossi managed to march into the Firestone Fast Six – the only one of four Andretti cars to do so – and qualify fifth for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“It was unbelievable,” Rossi said, of his team’s performance. “Yeah, I think it was six of the guys involved, management involved. It was a big, big situation to do an engine and a gearbox. So, yeah, I put them in a very tough situation.
“It was amazing just to be out there in the first place, have the opportunity to compete and qualify. Obviously we knew that the car had been strong all weekend. We didn’t get a chance on the red (alternate compound) tires, so the first run was kind of guessing a little bit.
“I was just pleased to be out there. I mean, obviously when you advance all the way to the end, you hope for a little bit more. Ultimately where we were two hours ago, I think everyone is relieved and happy that we got through that. Every result that we get this weekend is down to those guys, for sure.”
Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner, conceded the recovery to get the car back out for qualifying and score a positive result further aids a weekend that would otherwise be likely unsalvageable if they had to start at the rear of the field, especially at a place that is notoriously difficult to pass.
“If we had not made qualifying, started 27th, you’re super screwed,” Rossi said, who also placed fifth in final practice after qualifying. “This gives us a really good shot to have a good day tomorrow. Yeah, it’s because of those guys. Big thanks to them.”
Although Rossi “never had a doubt” the team would be able to make the repairs, the bigger emphasis of concern was on the readiness of a proper setup for qualifying.
“It was just a matter of how much we could kind of fine-tune it,” he said. “But I’ve driven for this team for going on six years now, I think. We’ve had either crash damage or incidents or mechanical issues or whatever, and we have not ever missed a session. Those guys are phenomenal in being able to diagnose a problem, get it addressed.
“I was never in doubt. For me, that whole time was focused on qualifying, talking to my teammates, talking to the other engineers to get an idea of what they felt on the alternate tires, then applying it as best as I could when we got out there.”