MOORESVILLE, N.C. – One of the biggest surprises during the NTT IndyCar Series season was perennial championship contender Alexander Rossi did not win a race.
The Andretti Autosport driver can generally be expected to win a few races each year, such as 2019’s blowout wins at Long Beach and Road America, where the margin of victory approached 30 seconds.
Rossi won’t have a chance to win another IndyCar race in 2020, but he has an opportunity to close out the racing season with a win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Acura Team Penske this weekend at Sebring Int’l Raceway.
Because this is an endurance race, IMSA teams add another driver to the regular lineup to share the driving duties over the length of the contest. Rossi is part of the driver lineup for the No. 7 Acura that also includes the team’s regular drivers, Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, who drove the car to the pole on Friday.
Rossi has a chance to end the season with a victory in Acura Team Penske’s final IMSA race. Team owner Roger Penske’s operation is leaving IMSA at the end of this season and Acura is splitting its program between Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021.
“The team has done a very good job at the halfway point of this year figuring out what we need to do to win,” Rossi told SPEED SPORT Friday afternoon. “The overall pace of the car was never a question. We got seven poles between the two cars in 12 races.
“The 7 car has been on a hell of a streak lately, winning four of the last five races. There is no reason why we can’t do it this weekend. We put it on pole, and we will see what happens.
“It’s 12 hours and endurance races haven’t been kind to us in the past, but I think everyone is motivated after Petit last month. We’ll see how it goes. You have to win to get the championship, so it will be a fight all day tomorrow.”
Saturday’s race at Florida’s Sebring Int’l Raceway begins at 10 a.m. E.T. Because of COVID-19, the race was rescheduled from March to mid-November, which means half of the race will be contested at night.
This will be the sixth IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of Rossi’s career, but his third for Acura Team Penske this season. Rossi’s team finished second in the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 17 after leading 131 laps.
“We’ve had a lot of issues in the endurance races,” Rossi said. “The Rolex 24 this year, we had a car to fight for the win, but got hit in hour three. Then it was driving around the back for the other 24 hours. It was a big wait before Petit and Petit went fairly well. We were in it with a chance to win it, fighting for it with five laps to go with the 31 car and it didn’t quite work out.
“Everything is working well right now. The whole team is in a good rhythm and we have one more race to close it out.”
The situation is unique for Rossi, who drives for Andretti Autosport in the NTT IndyCar Series and often finds himself battling Team Penske’s trio of drivers for positions on the podium.
This weekend Rossi has switched sides as a Team Penske driver.
“I have a great relationship with this team,” Rossi said. “They are my second team. I have an appreciation and respect for the guys in this organization. When we are at IMSA races, we don’t talk about IndyCar and when we are at IndyCar races, we don’t talk about IMSA. It’s two very separate situations where you are trying to win races as an individual while trying to get a team and a manufacturer out. I’ve loved driving for them for the past couple of years. I have a lot of good relationships and friendships with the guys here.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to win these for Acura and HPD. Aside from the six-hour Road Atlanta race, Acura hasn’t won in any of the endurance races. We have one more shot at it with Team Penske and this relationship. It would be very special because it would allow us to win the championship and tick off one of the flagship endurance races in the world, it would be great to finally get one after three years in this program.”
If the No. 7 Acura is successful in taking the checkered flag ahead of the competition after 12 hours, Rossi will be able to celebrate his only win of the year and Acura Team Penske can celebrate a championship in its final IMSA race, at least for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a huge honor and privilege to drive for the whole organization and Acura,” Rossi said. “It’s a very important program for them. This era is shifting at the end of the year come Sunday, it’s special to be a part of it. To be able to say I was part of Team Penske’s and Acura’s return to sports car racing in the US is remarkable and something I’ll cherish for a long time.
“I’m focusing on what we are trying to do this weekend, and that is win a championship.”