Alexander Rossi drove his No. 27 Andretti Autosport machine to the pole position during this afternoon’s qualifying sessions for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In 2016, he came to IndyCar from his five-race partial season with the Manor Marussia F1 Team. He brought a quiet confidence that enabled him to win both the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 and the Rookie of the Year. Last year, he improved on his 2016 performance with more podium finishes and moving up six spots in the championship. This year, we’re being treated to a new side of Rossi that we hadn’t seen before.
In the first two races, we saw a much more aggressive stance to the IndyCar newcomer. This was most evident in his penultimate lap, ill-fated move in Turn 1 on the Streets of St. Petersburg. His higher-risk style this year has already yielded positive results. With back-to-back podium finishes in races where he lead laps, he comes to Long Beach sitting second in the championship behind the defending champ, Josef Newgarden.
In both Round 1/Group 1 and the Top 12 (Q1 and Q2 in F1 parlance), Rossi bolted out of his pit stall immediately as the green flag for the session flew. This move took both Will Power and his Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud by suprise as Rossi beat both of them out on to the track guaranteeing the young Andretti driver a clean track. When this happened in the second round, both of the Penske drivers were immediately on their radios calling for a penalty. I’m not sure what penalty they wanted, as it looked like Rossi simply beat them out of the pits.
For the final round of qualifying, The Firestone Fast Six, Rossi changed tactics and exercised his well-deserved confidence remaining on pit lane while the other five drivers went out to battle for the pole position. With the clock winding down on the session, Rossi went out with just enough time to put in one, perhaps two, flying laps. He had exactly one chance to get it right. Showing that his confidence is certainly warranted, he put down a time that was a half second faster than the next nearest driver, Will Power. With his final lap, Power was able to close the gap to Rossi, but remained 0.35 seconds shy of pole.
“The team is doing a great job. Hats off to all of them, to Honda, to everyone who has put in so much effort. The big job is tomorrow so we have to execute that. I feel like we have given up to two potential wins so we are trying not to do that again tomorrow. But, the team definitely executed some NAPA Know How today and we are really happy to start from the best spot tomorrow. Obviously you go out every single session and believe that you have the best car and the best opportunity to do it. We have been so strong, we were strong here last year. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda has been so fast and I’m looking forward to leading the field tomorrow.” — Alexander Rossi, No. 27 Andretti Autosport
As we saw in today’s qualifying session, Long Beach is unforgiving. A number of drivers found the wall, especially at Turn 9, including both Will Power and Josef Newgarden in the final qualifying session. Aggression in qualifying can yield great results, as they did today for Alexander Rossi, but during an 85-lap race jam packed with 24 cars it can lead to disaster. This new approach has served him well so far this season. We’ll see if it continues to do so during the race.
Full qualifying results can be found at IndyCar.com.
You can view more of Scott James’ photos from practice and qualification at Long Beach on his Facebook page for SJamesPhoto.
Scott James Photo
Scott James is a motorsport and surf photographer living in beautiful San Diego, CA. We are very grateful for his willingness to share his talent with us, and we’re looking forward to having him provide more IndyCar content and images for us later this season as well. To see more of his work from the beach and the track, give him a follow on his various social media accounts.