During Wednesday’s NTT IndyCar Series media video teleconference, the power on Alexander Rossi’s camera went out — a simple freak occurrence.
But at the same time, it also was another instance of the kind of dismal year the Andretti Autosport driver has faced in 2021. He’s been short on or totally without much power far too many times for someone of his caliber.
And that’s why Rossi is enduring what ultimately has the potential to be his worst season ever in six seasons of IndyCar racing.
With four races left, including Saturday night’s event at Worldwide Technology Raceway near St. Louis, Rossi is 12th in the standings, a hefty 169 points behind current points leader Alex Palou.
Rossi’s previous worst IndyCar season was 11th in his rookie campaign in 2016 – even his unlikely winning of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 couldn’t help him finish better that year.
Even if Rossi were to go on a tear and win this season’s last four races, it likely wouldn’t be enough to catch and overtake Palou or the four other drivers still mathematically in contention for the title: Pato O’Ward, defending and six-time champ Scott Dixon, two-time champ Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson (the furthest back at 62 points behind Palou).
For a guy who earned seven wins in his first four IndyCar seasons, winning is something that has been foreign to Rossi the last couple of seasons. In fact, his last win circuit was more than two years ago, June 23, 2019 to be exact, at Road America in central Wisconsin.
Since then, Rossi has taken 33 green flags yet finished with zero checkered flags at the end. Compounding the issue even more this season is he has zero podium finishes – although he has some prospect of hope, as he’s coming off his best finish of the season with a fourth-place showing last Saturday in the road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
To be fair, even with his poor showing in this year’s standings, Rossi has had some encouraging finishes – seven times in the top-10 in the first 12 races – but just not enough to significantly help him in the points standings.
Now, the 2021 season is essentially over for the driver of the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts/AutoNation Honda. No one has to tell Rossi that he’s having a bad season – a very uncharacteristic season for him. But at the same time, how he’s fared in 2021 isn’t a single-season predicament. His struggles actually began in 2020, when he finished a winless ninth in a what was a very trying, COVID-19 impacted year for everyone on the circuit.
But in the overall picture, it isn’t just about what has solely happened to Rossi. In a sense, as he has gone, so has Andretti Autosport at the same time.
Since Rossi’s two wins in 2019, only teammate Colton Herta has put the Andretti team banner in victory lane, once each last season and this season thus far (Herta also won the season finale in 2019 but was driving for Harding Steinbrenner Racing then).
Rossi hasn’t won, Ryan Hunter-Reay hasn’t won, James Hinchcliffe hasn’t won and Marco Andretti departed the team (with the exception of running in this year’s Indy 500) after last season.
For a team owner and former standout driver who earned 42 career wins during his own tenure behind the wheel, Michael Andretti isn’t used to losing, let alone having his drivers finish poorly in the overall season standings.
Last season, only Herta finished in the top-5 (a distant third behind Dixon and Newgarden). Rossi finished a far-off ninth (220 points behind Dixon), Hunter-Reay was two points behind in 10th and Marco Andretti was 20th.
This season, other than Herta – who is currently second in the standings, 21 points behind Palou – the Andretti camp is even worse: Rossi in 12th, Hunter-Reay in 16th and James Hinchcliffe (replaced Marco Andretti this season in a full-time ride) is 19th.
Things have gotten so bad that Michael Andretti said about a month ago that he would be making personnel changes after this season. While Herta and Rossi are expected to stick around due to long-term contracts, Hinchcliffe will likely be looking for a new ride for 2022 (if he doesn’t retire and go into broadcasting full-time) and Hunter-Reay is uncertain at best to return (but could be dependent if primary sponsor DHL wants him back).
Which brings up another predicament for Andretti: if Hinchcliffe and potentially Hunter-Reay depart, who fills their seats? The IndyCar silly season isn’t exactly waist-deep in replacement prospects. If anything, AA would likely have to look outside the normal Indy Lights development channel and potentially make an overture to a less-successful Formula One driver who may be ready for a career and new circuit change. And even that isn’t a guarantee of success in 2022 as a replacement for Hinch and Hunter-Reay.
Rossi finished second to Scott Dixon in 2018 and third to Josef Newgarden in 2019 in the championship chase, his best season finishes to date. Yet it seems almost every season, Rossi enters the campaign as one of the favorites to win the title – and every season has ultimately ended in disappointment of coming up short once again.
“I think there’s certainly days where you feel like that,” Rossi said that Wednesday video conference. “At the end of the day you lose way more than you win in this sport. You have to be motivated by failures and losses. If you’re only motivated by winning, it’s going to be a tough road.
“I think we all as professional racing drivers learn that early in our careers, in go-karting at 13, 14 years old where you can only win a couple races a year on a great year.
“It is what it is. We’re focused forward and just executing the best we can every single opportunity that we go.”
Rossi will give it another go at Gateway, the final oval track of the season and first since the Indy 500. It also caps off a string of three successive race weekends before a weekend off. There is one more stint of three races in a row that will close the season next month with events at Portland, Laguna Seca and the season finale at Long Beach.
“The pace has been great (but) it hasn’t really resulted in much,” Rossi acknowledged about this year. “Obviously with the field now, every small mistake and issue and mis-step in setup decisions from session to session has a bigger effect than it used to. It requires everyone to really be perfect throughout the weekend.
“It is what it is. I think the Indy GP, this past race was good. Nashville we obviously had good pace, but it didn’t result in anything (finished 17th). Yeah, I mean, I think it’s all down to some circumstances ultimately.
“But as I’ve said many times before, I think the team’s done a great job from last year to this year in terms of how we go about the race weekends, pit stops, understanding the offset from the aeroscreen, all those things we’re in a much better position than last year. It just hasn’t really meant a whole lot quite yet.”
But while this will ultimately wind up as a forgettable year for Rossi, there’s still hope and consolation: it’s now less than seven months before the 2022 season begins.
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