Teammates the weak link in Rossi’s IndyCar title challenge

In isolation, the component parts of Alexander Rossi’s 2019 championship bid are as robust as any of his rivals. Driving at the peak (so far) of his abilities, the 27-year-old has become a formidable competitor in his three-and-a-half seasons in IndyCar.

But in what promises to be another tight championship run-in it is Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammates that could yet prove to be the weak link.

Alexander Rossi needs more support from his Andretti Autosport teammates
Alexander Rossi finds himself in the middle of a 5-way fight for the 2019 NTT IndyCar title. (image: IndyCar)

It is hard to find a weak spot in Alexander Rossi’s armoury.

Dominant performances at Long Beach and Road America were some of the most comprehensive ever witnessed in IndyCar and few, if any, of the remaining seven races, can be considered bogey tracks. This. allied to his daring driving style on ovals, makes Rossi a contender for race wins for the rest of the NTT IndyCar season.

A championship-calibre team, crew and car

In Andretti Autosport the former Indy 500 winner has a championship-calibre race team, led by the hugely experienced Rob Edwards as race strategist. Though Honda has suffered several mechanical failures so far this season, their powerplant is more than capable of pushing Rossi to the Astor Cup, as it did last year for Scott Dixon.

Against title rivals Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Will Power, Rossi has proven himself more than adept at beating all four. When it comes to going wheel-to-wheel, the seven-time IndyCar race winner has nothing to fear.

The challenge for Rossi, however, is what happens behind him as he fights for race wins.

Andretti Autosport: a one driver team?

Based on the 2019 NTT IndyCar season thus far, Rossi will be fighting without the support of his teammates. Collectively their poor qualifying form and race pace makes unlikely they will take valuable points away from the other title challengers.

Since the season-opener in March, the former F1 driver has been fighting single-handedly against Team Penske’s three-pronged attack and the ever-present threat of Ganassi’s Scott Dixon. As the top 5 drivers in the point standings vie for wins and podiums, there is little to suggest Rossi’s teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti or Zach Veach can get themselves into the mix.

Hunter-Reay continues in his role as ‘Mr Inconsistency’

Hunter-Reay – the highest placed Andretti driver behind Rossi in points – is enduring yet another rollercoaster season.

The former series champion has bounced up and down the field like a loose Firestone tire on pit road. From the high of a top 3 start at COTA to a dismal Indy 500 qualifying, Hunter-Reay’s average starting position is a lacklustre 10th.

Ryan Hunter-Reay Firestone Grand Prix St. Petersburg IndyCar Andretti Autosport
Hunter-Reay’s 2019 IndyCar season got off to a familiar start with another DNF. (Image: IndyCar)

Winless so far in 2019, RHR has scored five top 5 finishes. But the Honda driver still averages a 9th place finish, down on Rossi’s 5th which jumps to 4th if his first lap Indy Grand Prix exit at the hands of rookie Pato O’Ward is excluded.

By comparison, Hunter-Reay’s average finish is on par with Will Power but is, crucially, behind Newgarden, Pagenaud and Dixon. Limiting Hunter-Reay’s ability to regularly challenge and outscore his teammate’s championship rivals.

Poor qualifying pace blunts Marco’s challenge

Qualifying has long been Marco Andretti’s Achilles heel and 2019 has continued in a similar vein.

Andretti has recorded an average starting spot of 16th with his highest being twin 10th place starts at Indy and Road America. Compromised by managing only two Firestone Fast 12 appearances the 32-year-old’s average finish is just two spots higher in 14th, some 5 places lower than title outsider Power.

Marco Andretti Tony Kanaan IndyCar
Marco Andretti’s qualifying struggles continue to leave him racing deep in the midfield. (Image: IndyCar)

A sophomore year to forget for Veach

With zero top 5 finishes and just two top 10s, Zach Veach’s sophomore season in the NTT IndyCar Series is turning into a nightmare. On average Veach has qualified 15th this season but has typically lost places on race day, resulting in an average finish of just 16th.

Without a dramatic improvement in form – both in qualifying and race trim – Veach is unlikely to take points away from Rossi’s rivals in the closing races of 2019.

A maiden IndyCar title for Alexander Rossi will be a sweet success after the disappointment of 2018. However, it might just be a little sweeter – and harder to achieve – without the support of his Andretti Autosport teammates.

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