It wasn’t supposed to be this long of a wait for Alexander Rossi.
A charge to his seventh career pole on Saturday afternoon at Road America snapped a 48-race drought of claiming the top spot in NTT IndyCar Series qualifying, with the last coming at Belle Isle in 2019.
“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy to just think it’s been so long. Yeah, it just shows the belief of the whole organization,” said Rossi, 30. “The 27 NAPA Auto Parts AutoNation Honda guys have been good for a month, and it’s continuing on. We rolled off strong. It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of right now.”
Uniquely, the result came utilizing rival Josef Newgarden’s qualifying strategy at “America’s National Park of Speed” last year by opting with the harder primary (black sidewall) tire compound as opposed to the traditional softer alternate (red sidewall) rubber. Oddly enough, it was Newgarden, a three-time pole-sitter at Road America, who opted for alternates this time around and was left settling for a second-place starting spot.
“I think the Firestone blacks, the primaries, were a pretty easy decision based on what Josef did last year,” added Rossi, the 2018 championship runner-up. “I think you saw quite a few guys besides myself on them as well.
“It’s just with the nature of the track, it being so long, a new black is usually a little bit better than a used red. That being said it was still a lot of work to get it done. Happy we were able to achieve it.”
Additionally, the scenic 4.048-mile, 14-turn natural terrain road course is the site of Rossi’s last IndyCar win in 2019, where he led 54 of 55 laps en route to winning by a staggering 28.4391s.
“Yes, I think we definitely took pieces from the ’19 car,” he said. “There are some pieces from the past two years as well. Yes, we certainly went back to more of a philosophy that we had back then.
“But this all stems from the end of the year last year. Our road course performance had a big uptick at the last quarter of last year, and we’re just carrying that forward into ’22.”
Although the results didn’t match the pace in the opening two rounds of the 2022 season, Rossi and the crew of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda have strung together four top 10s over the last five races. The most recent two events have shown the most promise, with a fifth-place finish in the double points-paying Indianapolis 500 last month to go with second at Belle Isle last weekend – where he confirmed his departure from Andretti Autosport in favor of joining Arrow McLaren SP at season’s end.
The combination of results has Rossi sitting seventh in the championship standings, the only driver representing Andretti Autosport in the top 10. Still, the focus for Sunday’s Sonsio Grand Prix is breaking another drought and find Victory Lane for the first time in 44 races.
“Yeah, no, I mean, this sport – I’ve talked to it in the past – it’s a momentum business, for sure,” Rossi said. “When things go well, it just seems to kind of happen.
“Obviously you want to be able to quantify that, you want to be able to understand exactly why that is so that you can always have it. I don’t think it’s always as easy as that.
“Yes, I think the whole organization is doing a good job. Getting a good result and having a strong 500, all that sort of thing, it just helping everyone’s morale. That always leads to subconsciously everyone trying a little bit harder I think. I think we’re seeing the results of that. But again we haven’t won anything yet.”