Indianapolis — In the waning laps of a rage-filled Indy 500, Alexander Rossi was pacing the field back to the green flag when he made a brazen declaration to his Andretti Autosport crew.
“A bunch of hungry, angry cars behind me,” he radioed. “Little do they know I’m angrier.”
The finish didn’t bring him any joy.
Simon Pagenaud breezed past him high on the restart, triggering a dramatic duel that included five passes in the closing 13 laps. Rossi twice regained the lead, but it was Pagenaud who made the decisive pass, taking the lead to the white flag and then holding on through the final lap.
It gave Team Penske another win at the Brickyard.
And it left Rossi ruing a chance that got away.
“I’m happy to get a result,” he said, “but unfortunately nothing else matters here but winning. This one will be hard to get over, but at the end of the day, it’s a great showing.”
Rossi said the difference was simple: “Horsepower.”
All month long, the Chevrolet-powered cars appeared to have an advantage over Honda, particularly when it came to straight-line speed. Honda appeared to have an advantage in fuel mileage, but a late wreck that red-flagged the race wound up making that a moot point.
Speed was all that mattered. Pagenaud in his Chevrolet had just a bit more.
“There’s not much I can do about that inside the car,” said Rossi, who won the 2016 race in his first try, and has finished seventh or better in all four starts. “That last yellow hurt us. We were doing a lot better on fuel mileage than he was. It was the first kind of nail in the proverbial coffin. And the second was I just didn’t have the speed out front.”
Rossi acknowledged it was “a good day for the team,” but a number of incidents hurt the chances of a car he said was “by far the best in the field.”
The first came on a pit stop midway through the race, when an issue with a component inside the fueling mechanism caused a problem. While a crew member frantically kept trying to get the gas to flow, Rossi began pounding his steering wheel in frustration for a stop that lasted more than 20 seconds. It only cost Rossi a handful of spots, thanks to a timely yellow flag.
“It wasn’t ideal,” said Rossi’s race strategist, Rob Edwards.
The second incident involved Oriol Servia, who was a lap down but found himself jockeying with the leaders with 50 laps to go. Rossi kept trying to get around him, and at one point got pinched and nearly hit the wall while trying to make a pass, leaving him to ask: “What is he doing!?”
Rossi finally got around Servia while gesturing wildly from his cockpit at about 230 mph.
“There was a lot of lapped cars and no respect for what we were doing,” Rossi said.
“It was really unfortunate. Ultimately it didn’t make a difference with the result.”
Rossi tried to turn his anger into a sense of accomplishment.
“This one will be hard to get over, but at the end of the day, it’s a great showing,” he said. “We have to take the positives from this and the positives are the 27 boys did a phenomenal job.”