Andretti-Herta’s new signing Alexander Rossi tells Motorsport.com he was impressed by his first two days testing an IndyCar and that he has high hopes for St. Petersburg.
Two days of testing at Sebring short course in a car with high downforce and no power steering. How are your arms?
Ha! They’re fine. You’re really over the track by the end of the second day, I have to say… but yeah it’s nice to have so much track time ahead of the first race. That was a positive thing. It was fun, I really enjoyed it.
When Montoya returned to IndyCar in 2014, he described the paradox of being precise in a car with such heavy steering as “heaving carefully” into the apex. Did you find it’s hard to get precision when you’re fighting the wheel?
No but Sebring short course doesn’t have high-speed corners. In terms of steering weight, it wasn’t too big of an issue. Maybe once I get to high-speed, high-grip corners like at Barber, I might start feeling that a bit more.
It was actually the bumps I noticed most. I’ve been racing European road courses so long, I’m not used to driving on a track with so many bumps; that took me by surprise a bit.
What were your first impressions of an IndyCar and how quickly were you able to adapt your style to the handling characteristics of the DW12?
My first impressions were very positive. Like any racing driver, I always wish there was more power. But the downforce and grip levels are very impressive. It was a very pleasant surprise, quite honestly to discover the car had such impressive cornering speed. The first set of tires was probably a write-off but by mid-morning on the first day we were on the pace and able to do some development work. I was learning the impact that the changes had on the car, and we were able to do some aero testing on Day 2 as well, so it was a pretty seamless transition to IndyCar.
Did you get to a stage where you felt it wasn’t just you adapting to the car, but you were able to start tuning it to suit your handling preferences?
Yes, absolutely. Like I say, it was a little bit of a learning experience in that some of the technical changes have a similar effect to other cars I’ve raced, so we were trying to find our way as best as we could. But at the same time, we had to keep in mind it was a test in preparation for St. Pete, rather than doing things to adapt to Sebring itself. It is a good representation of a street track in terms of the bumps and the asphalt changes, but by the end of the two days, it had a massive amount of grip which is not going to be the same situation as St. Pete. The Andretti team as a group were very focused on – making sure this was St. Pete preparation.
Having said that, the performance was still very good around Sebring. No complaints from the test.
Return to spec racing
Are you frustrated at all by a return to spec racing – I’m guessing as you found in GP2 – because there are fewer changes you can make to fine-tune the car to your tastes, because there are simply fewer parts or tighter parameters around what is allowed?
Hmm… yes and no. I’d say IndyCar is more open than GP2, in that you have different aero kits and there’s constant development on what you can do with dampers, for example. And the support of Honda is pretty predominant and they’re willing to hear you out.
In Formula 1, I didn’t drive with a team where we could have feedback from a race weekend and then build a new part. I haven’t experienced that level of engineering development in my career, so I wouldn’t say that IndyCar is a step back at all. It’s definitely a step forward from GP2.
The natural tendency of a DW12 was to understeer, and I recall a lot of drivers lamenting the fact that there wasn’t enough leeway in the regulations to tailor it. Have you found that and what do you prefer as a driver?
I definitely prefer a car that’s more on the oversteer side, but having said that, I’ve spent so much time on Pirellis in the past four years, I always had to setup the car to understeer just to preserve the rears. I have to say, running Firestones and not having to worry about the tires made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.
So I’ve really learned how to deal with understeer, even though it isn’t my preference. Yeah, the DW12 does have an understeer tendency, but Andretti Autosport is a strong team with a lot of engineering depth, so they’ve got quite a few workarounds for that. So although it’s a characteristic, it’s not anything diabolical or unworkable by any means.
Were you able to get down to details like fuel saving techniques? That’s often something that catches out drivers new to IndyCar.
Yeah, we were able to get down to that toward the end, to get in a run to feel what to do. It is something I had to do with the Manor F1 car last year so it wasn’t completely foreign to me. So it was more about getting a feel for how sensitive the engine was to the fuel saving and the idiosyncrasies of this specific engine. But the technique required is nothing new.
The relationship with your race engineer Tom German; are you speaking each other’s language yet?
Yeah, absolutely. It was a great two days from that perspective, learning to work together and trying to do it in an accelerated manner. Two days of testing isn’t great preparation for a season! But we hit it off straight away and our communication is improving every day. He’s starting to learn what I need. And he’s also learning the car himself and I think that’s good. Our development process is going to be around each other; it’s not like he has preconceived notions and I’m trying to change them. From that perspective it’s very positive.
With regards to oval racing, you commented at the Phoenix media conference how you were enjoying watching the different lines drivers took. But as a complete oval racing novice, once you’re in the car, how do you propose to experiment with different lines when there are no margins, and the limit is basically a wall?
Ha! Very good question. I don’t really know yet… I think you don’t start experimenting until you know more about how oval racing goes. In the beginning I’ll just do what comes naturally, and whether it’s turning in too early or too late, too slow or too fast, I don’t care at the beginning. Once I get a feel for what is good and what is bad on an oval, I can start to play with it a little but it’s going to be in such minor increments, that I don’t see it being a major issue.
I think for Phoenix itself, it’s not the place to do much experimenting. I’m not saying any oval is, but once we get through Phoenix we have a large amount of practice time at Indy in the Month of May. I think that will be a more appropriate time to try all these different things. I’ll have a race under my belt and will know more about how it works. Phoenix won’t be a race where I try and get too creative.
Are you at least going to test there before the race weekend?
We’re working on trying to get something arranged. We’d all like that, but sometimes things don’t turn out the way you’d like.
Back to St. Pete, what are your realistic hopes in terms of being directly compared with your teammates who are series veterans?
I don’t really know. All the Andretti cars were close in Sebring although that’s only a 50-second lap, and practice was unlimited. I’m still going to the first race not really knowing what to expect but at the same time I now have a feeling for what the car does, and how it reacts, and those were the most important things to take from the test.
I mean, I’d say I go to St. Pete aiming to be top Andretti car and top Honda, and where that puts us, we’ll see. But honestly, I’m going in with high expectations.