LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The way Alexander Rossi sees it, he should be undefeated this season. Instead, he’s still looking for his first win of the year.
He wants it to come today on the downtown streets of Long Beach.
Rossi will start the race at the storied venue from the pole after a calculated late qualifying run proved his Honda from Andretti Autosport is the fastest car in the field headed into the race. Rossi waited on pit lane until the final minute in qualifying, and began his fast lap just as Josef Newgarden slapped the wall ahead of him.
Newgarden’s wounded car could have clogged Rossi’s path, but Rossi has been so fast all weekend nothing was stopping him. His lap of 1 minute, 6.5528 seconds claimed the top starting spot in Saturday’s qualifying session.
“We’ve been so strong, and we were strong here last year,” said Rossi, an Indianapolis 500 winner and one of the recent stars of reality TV show “The Amazing Race.”
Rossi has not received the proper attention for the start to his season, which very well could have started with two victories. He was behind rookie Robert Wickens on a late restart in the season opener at St. Petersburg when he made contact with Wickens that cost them both the victory. Last Saturday night at Phoenix, a track where drivers said passing was nearly impossible, Rossi drove through the field to finish third. He’s second in the IndyCar standings, five points behind Newgarden, the defending series champion and fellow American.
“I’ve given up two potential wins, so let’s try not to do that tomorrow,” Rossi said.
The pole for an Andretti team, or any team other than Penske at Long Beach, was a bit of an upset. Team Penske drivers had won seven of the last nine poles before Saturday.
Penske driver Will Power will start second followed by teammate Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Newgarden. The Fast Six qualifying session was an equal split of three drivers each from Honda and Chevrolet, but the only Chevy drivers all came from Penske.
But no one had anything for Rossi.
“He’s very, very quick here, the Andretti cars are, so I’m just happy to be on the front row,” said Power, who like Newgarden also hit the wall during his final qualifying session.
“That’s how hard you have to push, you almost have to scrape the wall on every exit,” he said.
Newgarden felt his incident wasn’t a question of pushing too hard.
“I just ran out of talent momentarily,” said Newgarden, last week’s race winner at Phoenix. “I really think we had the speed there to challenge, I don’t know if we would have gotten the pole, it would have been tight.”