Because of Covid-19, 2020 was a year to forget for most people. And for Andretti Autosport, and particularly Alexander Rossi, nothing could be closer to the truth.
“I just think we sucked globally,” Rossi told reporters Friday during preseason NTT IndyCar Series Content Days in Indianapolis. “There wasn’t anything we were doing right, whether it was qualifying performance, whether it was race performance, pit stops, my driving. None of it was good.
“I think Indianapolis was quite an eye-opener for everyone in terms of how fast all the Andretti Autosport cars were, and to come away with really nothing was not good. It wasn’t a good Monday.”
Winless in 2020, Rossi had the worse season in his IndyCar career, a career that started with his winning the Indy 500 in his rookie season in 2016.
Always a contender to win at Indy, 2020 was Rossi and the team’s worse performance yet. Up until Lap 125, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda was an absolute rocket, running towards the front pack and looked like it was going to be another strong Indy 500 outing.
When a group of cars pitted under yellow, Rossi tapped Takuma Sato coming out of pit lane. Though both cars were fine, Rossi was assessed a penalty and had to move to the back of the field. Minutes after the green flag, Rossi crashed out on lap 144, losing control in Turn 2 and plastering the wall with his #27 NAPA Honda.
Of the five Andretti Dallara-Hondas that started in the top 10, none came close to winning the race that day.
And what really rubbed salt in the wounds was the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg. Rossi led a race-high 61 laps before again plastering his #27 Honda on the concrete wall exiting Turn 2 and finishing 21st.
“One should have won, whether me or Colton or James, and we all threw it away in one way or another,” said Rossi, who went winless for the first time in his five IndyCar seasons and finished ninth in the points standings.
“We just all were honest with each other, and we discussed things that were good and not good, and we took 2020 as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes,” Rossi said. “I think there’s so many positives we can take out of it, and the end of the year went really well for us for the most part, minus St. Pete, which is on me.
“I think we’re operating at a really high level right now, and I’m excited to get on track (for the season opener) in Barber.”
“I think the biggest thing that hurt us was really the reduced track time,” he said. “(In) 2018-2019, we were never great on Fridays, and we would do a lot of work Friday night and come back Saturday for final practice and be there and qualify up front and the rest was kind of history.
“When you have that many cars, and it’s such a condensed one-hour practice with a two-hour break, you can’t use the advantage of all those cars. You don’t have enough people and time to go through that amount of information and make educated decisions. The other thing is when COVID happens, all the wind tunnel, the shaker rig, the simulator time, it all disappeared. We didn’t have any tools available to us to figure out what our problems were and solve them. We had to do it all on track. I think that’s a lot of what you saw the first 70 percent of last year.
“The one big thing that we wanted to accomplish in preseason testing this year was making sure that our offline simulation was correlating to the on-track stuff, and we did a lot of really cool things this winter. Honda and HPD have played a pretty big role in that, and we’ve progressed forward quite a lot.”
Coming off a win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Rossi is on a high and feeling very positive about 2021.
“It’s nice to start the season out with a win,” he said. “ I think that I’m driving well right now. I think everything is kind of coming naturally at this point.
“We’ve just got to keep it up. It’s one thing to have an event go well, but to win the IndyCar championship, you’ve got to be pretty much perfect for nine months. We’re starting that journey now, and I can’t wait. I’m more motivated than you can believe. I have a lot of points to prove.”
Mark C. reporting for AutoRacing1.com