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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – To borrow a phrase from golf, Alexander Rossi is “out of mulligans.”
On the golf course, a “mulligan” is a throwaway shot that doesn’t get counted on the scorecard during casual rounds among amateur players. A golfer often will get one or two mulligans per round.
Rossi’s first mulligan came June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway in the Genesys 300 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season-opening race. An electronic issue forced his engine into reset mode before the command to start engines. Because of strict social distancing guidelines used by INDYCAR to get the season started after a 2 1/2-month delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic, engine manufacturer engine techs were not allowed next to the car on the grid.
Rossi’s Honda engine tech was called to the car to plug in the computer to reset the engine. Once that was resolved and Rossi’s engine was fired up, he had to serve a penalty because of unapproved personnel on the grid. INDYCAR has since changed that rule and allows an engine tech at the car.
Rossi then fought back from a two-lap deficit to finish 15th, one lap down to race winner Scott Dixon.
At last Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Rossi started 11th before a fuel pressure issue put his No. 27 AutoNation Honda out of the race after 41 laps in the 80-lap contest.
Rossi arrives at Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, for this weekend’s Rev Group Grand Prix presented by AMR Doubleheader in 23rd in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings, 84 points behind Dixon.
There are 12 races left in the 14-race schedule for the championship. Andretti Autosport driver Rossi entered the season as a top contender for the 2020 title, but his unexpected start to the season has placed him in a deep hole.
Beginning with Saturday’s first race of the Road America doubleheader, Rossi is ready to begin his climb.
“To be honest, I don’t think anyone is really thinking about the championship,” Rossi said. “We are just trying to get things rolling. It’s been two difficult weekends. We aren’t at where we were hoping in terms of pace, in general. We definitely have some questions to answer and some work to do.
“We have a good baseline at Road America. If we have a strong weekend there, we can be back in the hunt at least and reassess come Iowa.”
To prevent additional unexpected technical issues, Andretti Autosport has changed everything, including the Dallara chassis that Rossi will drive this weekend in Wisconsin. He believes that will cross off any potential question marks and eliminate another unforeseen issue.
“At the GMR GP, it was a weekend we continued to have issues and replace parts, Rossi said. “We would go through a session and everything would be fine, then the issue would pop up again. I don’t blame anyone for that. It was just a relentless issue that wouldn’t go away that stumped all of us four days removed.”
The good news for Rossi is the next two races on the schedule are at one of his favorite tracks – Road America, fondly known as “America’s National Park of Speed.” Rossi dominated last year’s race, starting second, taking the lead in Turn 1 of the first lap when he passed polesitter Colton Herta and left the rest of the field in another county.
He led all 55 laps in the race and defeated Will Power by a whopping 28.439 seconds.
Rossi is confident that with limited practice and testing, his team’s setup should give him an advantage for a competitive weekend at Road America.
“It’s a blessing the next event is a doubleheader at one of my favorite tracks,” Rossi said. “It’s a track where we have always been pretty strong at in the past. We are buoyed by that, but we are very aware of changing conditions and tires, and the competition gets harder every year, so by no means are we guaranteed anything. The one thing we have is a good baseline to start from. With the limited amount of practice, that is an advantage to us.
“It’s all about making sure it is right for qualifying, getting a lap in for qualifying. If we can do that, you should be pretty much set for the rest of the event.”
This will be the first time the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has competed in a doubleheader at Road America. The majestic 4.014-mile road course will feature a race at 5 p.m. (ET) Saturday (live, NBCSN) followed by a race at noon Sunday (live, NBC).
That’s a very short turnaround for the crews to take a car from one race and have it ready to go in time for Sunday morning’s qualifications followed by an early start.
The following weekend is another doubleheader on the short oval at Iowa Speedway.
“I think the crews have the hardest job of all of us, just having to turn around the cars in the time that they do,” Rossi said. “In the heat we are dealing with this year, it’s very difficult going to a race, put on a firesuit and helmet and do pit stops, they have it harder than anyone. Whether we have an incident, it’s tough for them. It’s where a lot of differences can be made. I feel lucky to have the same group of guys I know are good and up to the task that I’ve had for the past three years now.”
Rossi is one of the most driven and focused drivers in the series. He expects to win races. Despite the slow start, he is excited about getting back into the battle with a doubleheader at Road America.
“Elkhart Lake is awesome, and the fact it is going to be the first race we have this year with fans is going to be a special thing for us this year,” Rossi said. “To welcome fans back to the racetrack, it’s a huge thing for us. It’s been a key part that has been missing this year.
“We love going to Road America ever since we started going back there in 2016. It’s one of the best tracks in North America, if not globally. It’s a track where we’ve had success at in the past and now, we will have the added energy of fans being back. I’m really looking forward to this weekend.
“The cherry on top is we get to do this twice.”