August 16, 2022

Sometimes history repeats itself. And it could potentially happen again for Andretti Autosport.

To his detriment, that is.

Alexander Rossi quietly and quickly climbed the NTT IndyCar Series standings. Although he hasn’t won a race since 2019, he picked up his first podium of the year and his second podium in two years with his second place finish last Sunday at Belle Isle.

With 10 races remaining and seventh-placed Rossi just 74 points behind series leader (and Belle Isle winner) Will Power, there’s still plenty of time for the so-called California Kid to charge forward and wins his first IndyCar championship.

And this is where history repeating itself can come into play.

When Andretti Autosport was known as Andretti Green Racing, its lead driver Dan Wheldon dominated the 2005 season, leading the points after all but one race en route to his second and final IndyCar championship.

Dan Wheldon is the last driver to win an IndyCar title and then jump ship the following year.

But Andretti Green let Wheldon slip away and move to Chip Ganassi Racing for 2006 (Wheldon was tied for first with Sam Hornish Jr. that season, but lost the crown due to a tiebreaker) . After leaving Andretti Green after the 2005 campaign, Wheldon was the last driver to win an IndyCar championship and then moved to another team for the following season.

Fast forward to 2022 and Andretti Autosport has already let Rossi slip away, signing a multi-year deal last week to race for Arrow McLaren SP from next season.

“The time has come for a new challenge, with a team that is growing in the sport,” Rossi said during the announcement. “I’m looking forward to contributing to the development of Arrow McLaren SP and helping them get to the top. I see this team’s commitment to each other and to me, and I can’t wait to get started. It’s time for me to race for another of the biggest names in motorsport: McLaren.”

Rather than fight to keep Rossi, the Andretti side decided to decide their fate and future with Kyle Kirkwood – in his rookie IndyCar season this year with AJ Foyt Racing – to replace Rossi in the No.27.

Alexander Rossi is seventh in the NTT IndyCar Series points standings.

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I don’t know about you, but it’s an “exchange” – or would you call it an “exchange” –it looks dodgy at best on the surface.

Of course, Rossi has struggled over the past two seasons, finishing ninth in 2020 and 10thlast season. He also hasn’t won a race since 2019 (he won twice that year). But with his recent performance improvement – two top fives and three more top 11s in the last five races – Rossi has gone from 27th in the standings after the second race of the season to seventh after finishing second at Detroit’s Belle Isle. last weekend.

“It’s good to put the car where it should have been and to have a chance at the end,” Rossi said. “Obviously Will (Power) did a fantastic job on a tire that has a lot of drop at the end. We did our best to manage the pace and go for it at the end but we were probably one lap missing. Still, overall a good result for the team.

Indycar the 106th Indianapolis 500 qualifying

Kyle Kirkwood will replace Alexander Rossi at Andretti Autosport next season.

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If Rossi continues to have strong performances and potentially a win or two in the remaining 10 races, he can definitely give the six guys ahead of him – Power, Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, Pato O’Ward, the champion IndyCar reigning Alex Palou, Josef Newgarden and six-time champion Scott Dixon, a serious race for their championship money by the end of the season.

And then there is the other part of the “trade”, namely Kirkwood. Sure, he’s young (23) and stood out in the Indy Lights series (10 wins and 14 podiums in 20 starts en route to the championship in 2021), but he’s shown very little performance since his promotion. IndyCar.

Kirkwood is 21st in the IndyCar standings, 172 points behind Power and 98 points behind Rossi. Kirkwood finished above 17thonly one position (10th at Long Beach) and crashed three times, including Belle Isle (as well as Texas and the Indianapolis Grand Prix).

Granted, AJFR’s gear isn’t as strong as Andretti Autosport’s, but letting Rossi go in favor of getting Kirkwood could come back again to bite Michael Andretti in the behind, just like when Wheldon is left for the greener fields of CGR.

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Alexander Rossi finished second at Belle Isle.

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Of course, Andretti wanted Kirkwood out of Indy Lights, but instead decided to go with Canadian driver Devlin DeFrancesco. That decision didn’t go too well either, as DeFrancesco’s best finish was 17th (Birmingham) and he crashed out twice in the first seven events. DeFrancesco is currently 24th, 181 points behind Power.

Rossi may seem smug to some, calm to others. But even with his mediocre track record in recent years, he hasn’t forgotten how to drive. After all, you don’t win the 100th Indianapolis 500 race in 2016 — as a rookie, no less — without knowing how to beat the best of the best.

Rossi is more than ready to get back to winning ways, and Sunday’s race at Road America could very well be where he does it again. He dominated the 2019 event from start to finish, leading 54 of the event’s 55 laps around the 14-turn, 4.014-mile road course up and down the Kettle Moraine layout, the largest track on which the short series.

Oh yeah, and Rossi finished over 28 seconds ahead of Will Power in the race without warning.

In fact, many called the Road America victory Rossi’s best racing performance, even better than when he won the 500 at Indy three years earlier, which was his first of seven wins since.

And given the confidence Rossi and his team have gained lately from their strong performances, it’s only a matter of time before he gets the No.27 back on the winning track, again. once, maybe as early as Sunday.

He is more than ready, emerging from his fine performance at Belle Isle, the 26th podium of his career.

“These back-to-back weekends are a blessing when things are going well,” Rossi said. “Really pleased with the progress the entire 27 team has made and we’re excited about our prospects at Road America, a track we’ve had some great times at in the past.”

Big times, indeed, and with the prospect of even more to come, potentially starting Sunday in central Wisconsin.

The announcement doesn’t really matter to me personally,” Andretti said after Belle Isle of his impending transfer to Arrow McLaren SP. “We are here in 2022, trying to do a job for Andretti Autosport and Honda and all our partners. That is the main objective.

“(It’s) two weeks in a row where we had really good races and overall a good weekend. It is the result of hard work by the entire organization. I think car 27 in particular has good momentum right now on one of our best tracks frankly at Road America. We feel good in the position we are in. We’ll just have to go out and carry on.

And potentially show that Andretti finally made another mistake by giving up on Rossi far too soon.

“All careers and all teams evolve, and we mutually decided it was time for each of us to move on,” Andretti said of Rossi. “I am confident he will go on to a successful career in IndyCar and we wish him the best. In the meantime, we are all working hard to finish the 2022 season strong.”

Follow Automatic week contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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