RACING

Did McLaren deal spark Rossi’s breakthrough in IndyCar?

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The IndyCar Grand Prix in Detroit was a spectacular event for Alexander Rossi. It started with his final reveal as the 2023 Arrow McLaren SP driver on Friday, before becoming one of the racing stars with a second-place finish on Sunday.

For the Andretti Autosport driver on a streak of 44 races without a win, this is not the end result he wanted. But it was more than just a result.

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That’s right, in that 44-race run, he scored eight podiums including three second-place finishes, but Detroit felt different.

For the past two seasons it has been eclipsed on the street circuits by team-mate Colton Herta, but last weekend it was clearly the fastest car in the Andretti team.

The only way his three-stop strategy worked was that he had a blistering pace, something that may have been lost in post-race interpretation that his strategy was advantageous.

Yes, it was advantageous, but for him to undo the 28-second time loss from a pit stop on the track to the original race leader in just over 10 laps was nothing short of extraordinary.

Of course, people will be looking for a reason for this breakthrough and the obvious thing they’ll look to is his squad change announcement last week.

“The announcement doesn’t really matter to me personally,” Rossi said after the race.

“We are here in 2022, trying to do a job for Andretti Autosport and Honda and all our partners. That is the main objective.

Logic. Rossi has known about the affair for some time, so why would it suddenly impact his performance in Detroit?

However, there may be another explanation for how it helped. Here’s what JR Hildebrand, co-host of The Race IndyCar Podcast, thinks.

“I totally agree that in situations like this, either your car is good and you’re getting the most out of it, or it’s not, and you’re not,” he said. he said during this week’s episode.

“There are other things that play a role there.

“I would say his general demeanor did strike me as a bit more relaxed though, which although he knows he’s had that deal one way or another for a while now, I think I’m getting he announced only let you take a deep breath.

“Because in some ways it’s not just about closing your deal. It is a question of revealing it in broad daylight, of not having to answer nagging questions on this subject.

“It’s about, maybe, there are people on your team, if you’re about to change teams, that kind of know, but don’t really know. And that can create a bit Of voltage.

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It’s an interesting train of thought. While Rossi may have been in his 2023 deal for a while, it’s likely some of his squad won’t know for sure, and perhaps knowing the future has them a bit freed up to head to Detroit to work in a better mental space when it came to getting Rossi’s car ready and working with him to get the most out of it over the weekend.

When asked ahead of the weekend if he was relieved to hear the deal announced, Rossi replied: “Yes and no. I think it’s good not to have to talk to people about it anymore. , you all know that.

“At the same time, like in this sport, you’re only as good as your last race. Everything is irrelevant. You have to go there every practice, every qualifying, every race you have to run, you have to prove why you should be here. That part of things doesn’t change in my mind.

“But, yeah, it’s nice not to have to have the series of questions about it.”

Like many things in the IndyCar series, it’s perhaps a greater number of factors that combine to post this weekend’s performance.

Part of the team arrived by chance with a good race car, this announcement has been made. A bit of Rossi feeling freed from the burden of questions about his future, and his team are now well and truly in the know and able to just focus on ending their partnership.

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It might be easy for some to forget in the midst of this barren race that Rossi won the Indianapolis 500 with the team on his first attempt and had seven wins before 2020.

There still doesn’t seem to be a logical explanation why 2020 has been such a struggle.

He’s certainly made mistakes in that span – like crashing into the lead at St Pete in 2020 – but he’s also had some bad luck and pit errors beyond his control.

According to the Firestone Pit Stop Performance award, Rossi’s pit crew is 18th in the series, while all but one of the six cars ahead of him in the championship have crews in the top six, with Marcus Ericsson’s group 11th.

This is measured on the shortest cumulative time in the pits per race, but it’s still a good general metric for roughly where the crews stack up.

Perhaps the freedom of a new environment is what Rossi needs to rekindle the form everyone knows he is capable of in IndyCar, and to reset with a new team to help sustain that rebirth.

“That decision was made for me kind of last summer. It was clear that I was going to look at different options and explore what was out there,” Rossi said ahead of the Detroit race.

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“I drove for Andretti Autosport for a long time. Sometimes you have to change things, whether it’s personal, professional or both. I think it was time for a change.

“Like I said, there were a lot of things that we accomplished that were very special, that I will remember forever. They basically gave me a base and established me in IndyCar to have a future in the IndyCar series I owe a lot to the organization.

“Ultimately for me it was time to do something different. I don’t think there’s a better couple for who I am as a person and a competitor than Arrow McLaren SP.

And as Hildebrand points out on the podcast this week, there’s no better way to see if Detroit is in the form Rossi can maintain than at the site of his last win: at Road America, where he soaringly dominated. overwhelming in 2019, and hosting the next round this weekend.

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