During morning practice, the #27 Andretti Autosport made hard contact with the barrier on the outside of Turn 17 at Barber, and the damage was extensive enough to require a whole new rear end and a new engine.
The team had under three hours to get the car prepared and set up in time for qualifying, and made it to pitlane with just eight minutes to spare.
Rossi was hard on it from the start of qualifying, taking fifth place in his Q1 group, third fastest in Q2’s 12-car battle and then took fifth in the Fast Six, 0.3s from Rinus VeeKay’s pole-winning time. This was despite Rossi never getting a run on Firestone’s alternates tyres during practice due to how early the crash had occurred.
“It was unbelievable,” said Rossi of his crew’s work, along with other members from his team-mates’ cars. “I think it was six of the guys involved, management involved, it was a big, big situation to do an engine and a gearbox. So, yeah, I put them in a very tough situation.
“It was amazing just to be out there in the first place, have the opportunity to compete and qualify. Obviously we knew that the car had been strong all weekend. We didn’t get a chance on the red tyres, so the first run was kind of guessing a little bit.
“I was just pleased to be out there. When you advance all the way to the end, you hope for a little bit more. Ultimately, from where we were two hours ago, I think everyone is relieved and happy that we got through that. Every result that we get this weekend is down to those guys.
“If we had not made qualifying, started 26th, you’re super screwed. This gives us a really good shot to have a good day tomorrow. Yeah, it’s because of those guys. Big thanks to them.
“It doesn’t really matter where you are anymore, it’s so hard to pass. It can be an oval, it can be a street course. It’s very, very difficult. It’s a huge, huge thing to be able to be in the top six. Very happy about it.”
Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport-Honda
Photo by: IndyCar
Rossi also said he didn’t question that the team could give him a car in which to qualify, but had misgivings over how dialled in it might be for a strong performance.
“I never had a doubt that they’d get it done,” he said. “It was just a matter of how much we could kind of fine-tune it. But I’ve driven for this team for six years now. We’ve had either crash damage or incidents or mechanical issues or whatever, and we have not ever missed a session. Those guys are phenomenal in being able to diagnose a problem, get it addressed.
“I was never in doubt. For me, that whole time [after the shunt] was focused on qualifying, talking to my team-mates, talking to the other engineers to get an idea of what they felt on the alternate tyres, then applying it as best as I could when we got out there.”
Rossi was in fact the only Andretti Autosport driver to reach the final shootout. Colton Herta, who had looked a pole position candidate, left the pitlane late for his final run in Q2, and was denied by a red flag caused by Marcus Ericsson spinning his Chip Ganassi Racing into the gravel.
Another potential pole contender, Romain Grosjean, fell just a few hundredths short of making the cutoff for Fast Six graduation and will start eighth, two positions ahead of Herta.