INDIANAPOLIS – After an angry day behind the wheel and over the team radio, Alexander Rossi was quietly subdued as he circled Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“Sorry, I couldn’t do anything,” Rossi told his Andretti Autosport crew over the radio after Simon Pagenaud beat him to the finish line by 0.2086 of a second to end a wild, back-and-forth duel.
The disappointing finish capped a strong but troublesome effort by Rossi, who lost the lead to Pagenaud heading into Turn 3 on the 199th lap and couldn’t regain it during the final five turns of the race on the 2.5-mile oval. The two drivers exchanged the lead five times in the final 14 laps of the 200-lap race.
In the end, Rossi explained his emotions in terms of his desire to win the race for a second time.
“Once you've won this thing once, the desire to win just ramps up exponentially every year,” said Rossi, who won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2016. “So it sucks to come this close and really have nothing that we as a team could have done differently. I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the effort that they always put in. When we get (win) No. 2, it's going to be probably a huge explosion of emotions because we all want it really bad.”
Rossi’s anger began to surface shortly after the halfway point of the race when he struggled to lap Helio Castroneves, who was two laps down. It continued as he lost track position when the fuel probe wouldn’t engage during a pit stop on Lap 137 -- the second time it happened in the race.
Rossi, who entered the pits in the lead, pounded on the steering wheel as crew members struggled with the fuel hose. Once he returned to the track under caution, Rossi complained to strategist Rob Edwards about Castroneves.
“Is INDYCAR going to deal with people who are five laps down?” Rossi asked.
Edwards told Rossi that the incident had been reported to officials.
“Five laps,” Rossi said.
That wasn’t the end of the emotions. When the race restarted on Lap 147, Rossi struggled to get around another lapped car, this one driven by Oriol Servia. As Rossi finally got past Servia on the frontstretch on Lap 154 after seven laps of battling, he shook his left fist in anger.
“What is he doing?” Rossi shouted over the radio after he completed the pass.
After the race, Rossi had harsh words for Servia, a veteran of 10 Indy 500 starts.
“That’s one of the most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen in a race car,” Rossi said. “He’s a lap down and defending, (nearly) putting me into the wall at 230 mph. It’s unacceptable.”
In spite of the various issues, Rossi was still in position to win at the end. As he chased Pagenaud through the final lap, Pagenaud swerved to try to break Rossi’s draft. Edwards told Rossi over the radio on the cool-down lap that they would protest to INDYCAR officials that Pagenaud had blocked Rossi.
“He was moving in reaction, for sure,” Rossi said after the race. “But it’s the last lap of the Indy 500. They’re not going to do anything about it, so it’s kind of irrelevant.”
Afterward, Rossi emphasized the positives from the runner-up finish, including the 82 points gained, which moved him into third place in the NTT IndyCar Series standings, trailing only Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden, who finished fourth Sunday. Pagenaud is one point up on Newgarden and 22 ahead of Rossi after six races.
“Ultimately, it was a good day for the team,” Rossi said. “I think that we put a huge focus all month as we always do on the race car. The car was by far the best in the field in terms of what we could do and pass at will when I needed to. I didn't see anyone else doing that. So a huge testament to the whole Andretti Autosport organization for … giving me a car that was capable of winning.”
Rossi has never finished worse than seventh in four Indy 500 starts. He’s also led at least a lap in each start at the Brickyard.