Paddock Buzz: Rahal, Rossi Keep Cool after Contact

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Respect between a pair of veteran NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers allowed the fallout of a flat right-front tire to not be a hot-topic issue.

Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal were battling for position approaching Turn 4 in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg when Rahal dove to the inside of Rossi in a bid to draw alongside him. Their contact cut Rossi’s tire, keeping him from being able to turn his No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda as they arrived at Turn 5. They bumped twice more before coming to a stop.

Rahal was able to get his No. 15 United Rentals Honda backed up to continue in rather short order, but many positions had already been lost, both drivers’ chance at good results gone. Rahal finished 15th, Rossi 21st in the 24-car field.

“I think it was a little bit of a racing incident,” Rahal said. “Obviously, I had a bit of a slow pit stop (just prior to the contact); I think he might have, as well. We thought we were just going to (pass) him.”

Rahal said he “had to make the move” entering Turn 4 because of there are only three legitimate passing zones on this 14-turn, 1.8-mile circuit.

“(Contact) happens,” Rahal said. “Alex is a pretty fair guy, so I don’t think there are any hard feelings. It’s a shame for the flat right front because I think we both could have gone through perfectly fine and continued our days. But it is what it is.”

Rossi said he was still on cold tires and therefore not yet up to full speed when the initial incident occurred.

“I feel like I gave him room – I didn’t have him on the curb or anything,” Andretti Autosport driver Rossi said. “It’s one of those racing things.

“Obviously, looking at (the television replay) it’s unfortunate he ended up on the outside of me when I had the flat tire. I wasn’t trying to drive him into Turn 5. The contact in Turn 4 is what kind of caused our issue, and it’s one of those things – you’re racing for the same piece of real estate.”

Rossi’s poor finish dropped him to 16th in the standings after two races, not the position he hoped to be in after struggling through last year’s winless season. But he refused to hang his head.

“I think frustration building in the past has cost us,” he said. “The good thing is, the car is fast. That’s usually the harder problem to fix. It’s a lot different than last year when we were having these issues and didn’t have car speed.

“The car is quick this year, and at one point, things will line up for us.”

Bourdais Delivers Another Strong Result

Members of AJ Foyt Racing have taken to calling Sebastien Bourdais the “Million Dollar Man” after his fourth-place finish in last year’s season-ending race in St. Petersburg secured their place in INDYCAR’s Leaders Circle program for 2021. That bonus is worth approximately $1 million per entry annually.

Bourdais is still paying dividends to the team which signed him last year, with Sunday’s 10th-place finish paired nicely with the fifth place finished he delivered last week at Barber Motorsports Park.

After two races, the driver of the No. 14 ROKit Chevrolet is tied for sixth place in the standings, just 16 points out of the lead.

Bourdais, who lives only about a mile north of the track in St. Petersburg, completed this 100-lap race when it seemed like he might not even get started. He sat on pit road for the two warmup laps while the crew switched out the radio in the car’s footbox.

Then in the opening journey through the tight Turn 1, Bourdais had nose contact with Josef Newgarden’s No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet and side contact with another Team Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud in the No. 22 Menards/Australian Gold Chevrolet. Remarkably, Bourdais didn’t even lose a position despite damaging his car’s nose, with an onboard camera dangling from the front for most of the race.

Bourdais should be getting used to driving a wounded car. Last month, he drove the final, winning segment of IMSA’s 12 Hours of Sebring sports car race with a damaged rear wing, and he finished last week’s Barber race with sidepod damage.

On ‘Road to Indy’

David Malukas of HMD Motorsports finished the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires weekend with a second podium finish, winning the Sunday race after finishing third Saturday. The win was his second of the season, having taken the second race last week at Barber Motorsports Park. Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who won Saturday’s race, finished second in this one.

Christian Rasmussen of Jay Howard Driver Development scored a convincing 7.3-second victory in the Indy Pro 2000 race Sunday. The win was his first in the series in three starts; he finished second Saturday.

Up Next for INDYCAR

Fans of next weekend’s INDYCAR doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway will get a preview of pit stops Friday in an event directly behind the Fort Worth Library. The 2nd Cowtown Pit Stop Challenge will feature Team Penske vs. Chip Ganassi Racing in a four-crew battle.

Josef Newgarden and Will Power will represent Team Penske while Tony Kanaan and Alex Palou will compete for the Ganassi team. The event begins at noon local time on 2nd Street between Taylor and Burnett Streets.

The Genesys 300 will be held Saturday at 7 p.m. (ET) with the XPEL 375 on Sunday at 5 p.m. (ET). Both races will air live on NBCSN with practice sessions and qualifying on Peacock Premium, NBC’s streaming service available at www.peacocktv.com.

INDYCAR’s competitor field certainly will look different. Kanaan will take Jimmie Johnson’s place, Carlin will announce this week who will drive its No. 59 Chevrolet that Max Chilton pilots in road and street-course races, Ed Carpenter returns to his No. 20 Chevrolet driven so far this year by Daly, and Pietro Fittipaldi steps in for fellow rookie Romain Grosjean in the No. 51 Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR. Twenty-four car-and-driver combinations are again expected.

Dixon dominated last year’s Texas race, leading 157 of the 200 laps as part of three consecutive victories to open his sixth championship-winning season. Dixon has four wins at the 1.5-mile oval, tied with Helio Castroneves for the sport’s all-time lead at the track.

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