NTT INDYCAR SERIES standout Alexander Rossi said Friday that Arrow McLaren SP, for which he will drive on a multiyear contract beginning in 2023, is everything he seeks in a race team.
“This is a team that’s going to be a championship challenger,” he said. “They were last year, they will be this year, and I think that will be the case going forward.”
Rossi is already a proven championship-caliber driver, finishing second in 2018 with Andretti Autosport. He was third in the final standings in 2019, but his program has not been at that level since, and he hasn’t been able to explain why. Hence, his decision last summer to begin exploring opportunities with other NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams.
In recent months, Arrow McLaren SP became the most logical choice, and Rossi called joining the Indianapolis-based organization “a pretty easy decision.” The formal announcement came Thursday.
“If you look at what the team did (in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge) this year, they were the second-strongest team,” he said, noting the IMS dominance of the five-car effort of Chip Ganassi Racing, which had the fastest two qualifiers and won the race with Marcus Ericsson. “Arrow McLaren SP certainly had the next-best shot and certainly had our number (at Andretti Autosport) in a lot of respects.”
Rossi enters this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park 11th in the season point standings. If the season were to end today, it would match his rookie season in 2016 as the lowest finish of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career.
More significantly, the Californian with seven series race wins, including the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016, has not reached Victory Lane in nearly three years, a span of 43 races. That has weighed on him.
“Sometimes you need to change things on a personal side, a professional side or both,” he said. “I think it was time for a change.”
Rossi said he does not regret his 2019 decision to re-sign with Michael Andretti’s organization and that he is “grateful” for the opportunities Andretti, co-owner Bryan Herta and Honda afforded him over the past seven seasons. He said they all will remain friends.
“We’re just going to be looking to beat their asses in 2023,” he said, smiling.
Andretti Autosport announced Wednesday that Kyle Kirkwood, who has won the USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championships in consecutive seasons, will replace Rossi and drive the No. 27 AutoNation Honda. Kirkwood is spending his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season driving the No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.
At Arrow McLaren SP, Rossi will join an organization building a new facility in Whitestown, Indiana, and expanding to three full-time cars for next season. Pato O’Ward, who finished second in last weekend’s “500,” is signed to drive the team’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet through the 2025 season. Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP) does not have a contract with the team for next season, although team president Taylor Kiel suggested the Swedish driver who finished fourth in the “500” remains under consideration. Kiel said a decision on which car Rossi will drive has not yet been made.
Rossi said he only knows O’Ward casually, but he is looking forward to working with him.
“Obviously, Pato is one of the guys who has come on the scene in the past couple of years and is someone who is properly a championship contender, someone you have to beat every weekend,” Rossi said. “So, from Day 1 we’re going to push each other very hard, and naturally that’s just going to elevate the team. There’s going to be a competitive drive within the organization that will be a benefit for everyone.”
Kiel said Rossi exemplifies everything Arrow McLaren SP wants in a championship-caliber driver.
“I think it’s pretty simple: Alex has a fantastic resume, he’s a good fit for our organization … and he’s certainly going to elevate what we’re doing (as) a great teammate and a great driver,” Kiel said. “It’s really a no-brainer for us. We’re trying to elevate on track, off track (to) bring in the best talent we can.”
Rossi stressed that there is much still to accomplish with Andretti Autosport, beginning with this weekend’s event. Sunday’s 70-lap race around the 13-turn, 2.35-mile street circuit is the seventh of 17 races on the 2022 schedule, and he vowed to give everything he has for the No. 27 crew.
“I think the future is very, very, very exciting, and I’m looking forward to getting started (with Arrow McLaren SP),” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot to do in the 2022 season, so that’s the main focus right now.”
NTT P1 Award qualifying for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear will be held Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (ET), with live coverage on Peacock Premium, the streaming service of NBC Sports. Sunday’s race will be broadcast on USA Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network.