Published 2:22 p.m. UTC Aug 20, 2018
LONG POND, Pa. — Ladies and gentlemen, we have a title fight.
For more than a month, it looked like Scott Dixon might run away with his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship, but one driver and his team have been relentlessly determined to keep that from happening.
Over the past two races, including Sunday’s ABC Supply 500, Alexander Rossi and the No. 27 Andretti Autosport crew have unleashed a pair of masterpieces to climb within striking distance of the Chip Ganassi Racing legend. Three weeks ago, Rossi went from pole to checkered flag at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and on Sunday at Pocono Raceway, he led an incredible 180 of 200 laps to score his second consecutive victory and third of the season.
With Dixon finishing third, his lead is down to just 29 points with three races to go, including the double points finale at Sonoma Raceway. Pole-sitter Will Power came in second, as Rossi ended his dream of winning back-to-back-to-back ABC Supply 500s.
On a normal Sunday, Rossi would have been over the moon about uncorking a near perfect day like the one he enjoyed. However, Sunday was far from ordinary and far from perfect.
On the ninth lap of the race, Rossi’s friend and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie phenom Robert Wickens was part of one of the scariest crashes IndyCar has seen in recent years.
While attempting to make a pass of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Wickens clipped the back of Hunter-Reay’s car, which sent the Andretti driver into the wall. Wickens was little more than a passenger at that point, as he launched off Hunter-Reay’s car into the wall, then the outer fence. His car shattered into pieces and twisted through the air. The car’s tub landed on the track and spit fire before it came to a rest. Medical personal immediately rushed to Wickens assistance, and eventually Wickens was helicoptered to a nearby hospital.
IndyCar officials reported that he was awake and alert upon being transferred and later Sunday evening said he had been admitted into Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pa., “with orthopedic injuries,” and that he’d continue to be evaluated.
WICKENS: Violent crash casts cloud over Rossi’s win at Pocono
“We’ll enjoy this one, but dark cloud metaphorically and literally with what happened at the start,” Rossi said in his post-race conference on an overcast Sunday. “I look forward to talking to Rob and James (Hinchcliffe, whose SPM car was among those collected in the crash) and giving them my best wishes and hope to see them very, very soon.”
Rossi said he doesn’t like seeing anyone involved in such a horrific crash, but admitted the anxiety over a wreck like that “hits a little closer to home” when it’s someone he considers a friend away from the track.
“But at the end of the day, all 22 of us, 33 of us, whatever it may be, are a family,” Rossi said. “We try our best to look after each other out there. You don’t want to see that happen to anyone. We’ll continue to think of him and pray for him, his family, his fiancée, all that they have to deal with.”
Despite the deep concern for his friend, Rossi and the rest of the drivers in the field had to put those worries in the back of their minds and continue to press on Sunday. Tough as it is to do sometimes, it is their job. And when the job is driving more than 200 mph around a superspeedway, terrifying crashes are a part of the job description.
Rossi was able to compartmentalize his concern for Wickens and make the best of what was an incredible car given to him by his No. 27 crew and teammate Zach Veach.
Throughout the weekend, the entire Andretti team credited Veach’s rookie test last week at Pocono with preparing them for the challenges ahead.
His insights proved especially crucial when Saturday’s second practice session was cancelled because of rain. While many teams were simply guessing at the right setup for Sunday’s race, Andretti was prepared
“At the end of the day it was really Zach finds in the test that were big,” Rossi said. “Those are things we don’t usually necessarily run on superspeedways, so we didn’t have the ability during the month of May. I can’t express (appreciation for) the job he did enough to give the four of us a car that was as good as it was, as strong as the Penske cars in my mind. As a rookie, first time being here, can’t be stressed enough. Huge hats off to him.”
That’s a classy move by Rossi to share the spotlight with his teammate, but Rossi should take some credit, too. Heading into Mid-Ohio, there was a mountain of pressure on him and the other championship contenders to keep Dixon from running off with this championship. They all knew Dixon wouldn’t make a mistake that let them back in, so the pressure was on them to make something happen. And Rossi hasn’t buckled underneath the weight of it all. At Mid-Ohio and Pocono, he’s been near perfect, as he continues to whittle down Dixon’s lead.
So a huge hats off to you, Mr. Rossi. You turned what could’ve been a Dixon blowout into a legitimate heavyweight title bout.
In one corner stands a legend of the sport, still at the peak of his powers and craving a fifth championship. In the other corner stands the breakout story of the year and one of the top young talents in the series hunting his first title.
Who will be left standing after Sonoma is anyone’s guess, but one thing for sure: IndyCar fans are sure going to enjoy the haymakers these two throw at each other the rest of the season.
ABC SUPPLY 500 RESULTS
Sunday from the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway (starting position in parentheses):
1. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running
2. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 200, Running
3. (13) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running
4. (8) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 200, Running
5. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 199, Running
6. (7) Zach Veach, Honda, 199, Running
7. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 199, Running
8. (5) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 199, Running
9. (19) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 198, Running
10. (15) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 197, Running
11. (20) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 197, Running
12. (12) Ed Jones, Honda, 197, Running
13. (21) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 196, Running
14. (18) Graham Rahal, Honda, 196, Running
15. (22) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 162, Contact
16. (16) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 17, Contact
17. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 16, Mechanical
18. (4) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 6, Contact
19. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 6, Contact
20. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 6, Contact
21. (10) Takuma Sato, Honda, 6, Contact
22. (17) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 6, Contact
Winner’s average speed: 191.304 mph
Time of Race: 2:36:49.1128
Margin of victory: 4.4982 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 10 laps
Lead changes: 11 among 4 drivers
Lap Leaders: Power, Will 1 – 6, Rossi, Alexander 7 – 37, Power, Will 38, Carpenter, Ed 39, Dixon, Scott 40 – 42, Rossi, Alexander 43 – 71, Power, Will 72, Rossi, Alexander 73 – 135, Power, Will 136 – 140, Rossi, Alexander 141 – 168, Power, Will 169 – 171, Rossi, Alexander 172 – 200.
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Dixon 530, Rossi 501, Newgarden 464, Power 449, Hunter-Reay 411, Wickens 391, Pagenaud 368, Rahal 351, Hinchcliffe 338, Bourdais 325.