Alexander Rossi admits he was taken aback by his first day of IndyCar practice/qualifying/evening practice on an oval, but has been encouraged by his test at Barber Motorsports Park.
The Andretti-Herta Autosport rookie qualified 14th at Phoenix International Raceway, some 2mph slower but only three places behind the fastest Honda-powered driver, his teammate Marco Andretti.
Rossi explained to Motorsport.com: “We didn’t get our last new tire run [during morning practice] so we went into qualifying not sure about what we had.
“I had only run with other cars in that practice session, so I wasn’t sure yet how big an effect the dirty air was making, so I went into qualifying thinking it would solve any of the balance issues that we had… and it didn’t.
“I ran a bit less downforce than my teammates and it was too far in that trimmed out direction, so I was upset because I felt we could have been top Honda. But given Chevy’s dominance, it’s not like I was going to be near the front. Eleventh, fourteenth –the difference is not life-changing right?”
Rossi said Honda’s disappointing weekend at Phoenix so far – only one Chevrolet got beaten by Honda cars in qualifying – does not lift the pressure on him in his rookie IndyCar season.
“No, not at all because I want to be the odd one out who puts a Honda into P5!” said Rossi. “That’s the mindset I have.”
Checking out race trim
In evening practice, Rossi slipped to 18th on the timesheets, but reduced his deficit to his leading teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay on their respective best laps to under 1mph.
He remarked: “The first 10 minutes were pretty eye-opening, I’ve got to say. I was a little bit taken aback by it. But by the end, I was fine. Racing other Hondas is going to be easy enough for us, racing Chevys is not going to be easy at all.”
On the subject of his more experienced rivals’ worries that it might be a one-groove racetrack, Rossi commented: “It could be six or seven-groove for all I know! I’m not the guy to ask about that.
“But seriously, having seen guys go side by side and try and pass around the outside, it doesn’t look like it works very well.”
Encouragement on road courses
Rossi said he had been very pleased with the test at Barber Motorsports Park which all drivers bar the recuperating Will Power attended two days after the St. Petersburg season-opener.
“As a package, as a racecar, it was something I was much more familiar with,” Rossi commented. “It was much more instinctive. Things that I thought would solve problems were solving problems.
“I think being on a road course rather than a street course also helped the learning process. No bumps and unexpected camber changes. It was a track I could adapt to pretty quickly given my European experience. I could just concentrate on what it needed to go fast.
“So by the end of the day, I had a much clearer picture of what I’m looking for from a car. I wouldn’t say I was 100 percent there, comfort-wise, and I don’t think we’ve found the last couple of tenths. But I found what I needed to do to go faster and found a big chunk of what we were missing in St. Pete.
“Blown away” by cornering speeds
Rossi recalled completing “around 100 laps” of Barber, and while he said that fatigue was not an issue, he was left impressed by the downforce levels combined with a high-grip track surface at the track situated 20 miles east of Birmingham, Alabama.
“I was blown away by the speed you could carry through the corners,” said Rossi who finished runner-up in GP2 last year, and started five Formula 1 races.
“The first two runs I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m going pretty quick,’ and then I looked at the data comparisons [with teammates] and I thought, ‘Oh…’
“But then you go and do it yourself and it’s fine. It sticks. I have a massive appreciation for the downforce that’s on these cars. It really stands out at Barber.”
Rossi said the huge downforce on the second-gen aero kits for 2016 had not removed the feel from the driver.
“No, it’s not so stuck that it’s numb,” he said. “I think when you do have a moment, it’s a bigger moment because you’re going so fast. But I think you can still feel when it’s going to let go.
“I think you can go too far the other way if you don’t have enough downforce, where you can’t tell if that’s just the car mass movement, or is that an ‘I’m-about-to-slide-into-the-gravel’ movement?’ So having it stuck the way it is, that’s fine with me.
“I’ve got to say, I’m really enjoying it.”