Alexander Rossi Takes First IndyCar Road Course Victory at Watkins Glen
The championship fight gets even tighter going into the season finale at Sonoma.
Andretti Racing's Alexander Rossi took his first pole and his first road course victory in IndyCar on Sunday. The 2016 Indy 500 winner has been in top form as of late and has finally had the breakthrough weekend he's been trying for during his two seasons in IndyCar. Rossi, along with six other drivers, is still in contention for the championship at the season finale race at Sonoma Raceway on September 17.
At the start of the race, Rossi held off a charging Josef Newgarden in the first corner and built up a comfortable gap on the first lap. Championship leader Newgarden out-braked himself and lost momentum as he tried to go from third to first in turn one.
The field was forced to start on wet tires, as there had been rain before the start of the race. The track was ready for slicks at the start, and all but two cars would pit for tires at the end of the first lap. Rossi kept the effective lead after the stop but things didn't go as planned. Helio Castroneves opted for faster red tires, while Rossie switched to blacks. Castroneves easily got around Rossi shortly after the stop.
During the next round of stops under caution, the fuel rig for Rossi's car malfunctioned. Once the race went green again, Rossi was forced to pit early to top off the tank. This dropped him back in the field and potentially ruined his day. Another caution just two laps later brought the rest of the field back into the pits, while Rossi stayed out. Rossi retook the lead on Lap 29 and never looked back.
Most of the contenders for the championship had decent results to keep their hopes alive for the season finale. Championship leader Newgarden made a late error that cost him dearly: while exiting the pits on lap 46, he locked up and hit the pit exit barrier. As he slowed after the contact, he was hit from behind by Sebastian Bourdais, who was also exiting the pit. Bourdais had nowhere to go, and the accident damaged both cars. Newgarden was able to to get his wounded car around the track and back into the pits for repairs. This put him two laps down and erased most of his 31-point lead in the championship.
After the debris from Newgarden's accident was cleared, the race went green again with 12 laps to go. Rossi was leading a fast-charging Scott Dixon. Rather than coasting to an easy victory, Rossi held off Dixon for those 12 laps like a seasoned veteran. Both had "Push-To-Pass" left and were using it even as they crossed the finish line. If anyone had doubts about Rossi's abilities, they were surely vanquished on Sunday afternoon. He took victory in challenging conditions, and with authority.
At the end of the day, seven drivers are still mathematically in contention to win the championship. Newgarden leads with 560 points. Behind him there is Dixon (-3), Castroneves (-22), Simon Pagenaud (-34), Will Power (-68), Rossi (-84), and Graham Rahal (-94). There are so many ways things could play out at Sonoma. We will be crunching the numbers in the coming days to explain it all. Needless to say, it's going to be a great race to end the 2017 IndyCar season.