By Ryan Gregory | @Ryan_Gregory_
Sports Capital Journalism Program
No one was more aggressive in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 than Alexander Rossi. Despite a day littered with bad breaks and unfortunate luck, the 2016 winner was resilient in his pursuit of the Borg-Warner Trophy. Rossi came up just short of the comeback as Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud took the victory with a time of 2:50:39.2797, just 0.2086 better than Rossi in the seventh-closest finish in the history of the race.
Rossi’s 2019 running of the 500 was reminiscent of his 2016 performance for the first half of the race. He was drafting behind Pagenaud, who led for 116 of the 200 laps, which allowed Rossi to conserve fuel. Then, while pitting on Lap 137, fuel proved to be a monstrous obstacle for Rossi to overcome.
The “Andretti Curse” of mechanical issues derailing promising Indianapolis 500 performances appeared to become a factor once again. Rossi, who races under Andretti Autosport, couldn’t get fuel during his pit stop. A malfunction in the fueling process created a 23-second pit stop that dropped him from first to thirteenth, effectively decimating his momentum.
A mishap that significant would have ended the day for most drivers, but Rossi showed resiliency. He raced with unrivaled aggression for the remainder of the race. That aggression turned to frustration when Rossi angrily shook his fist at Oriol Servia after being blocked by the lapped driver on the straightaway.
“There was a lot of lapped cars that had no respect for what we were doing,” Rossi said. “It was really unfortunate. Ultimately, I don’t think it really made a difference with the end result, but with 50 laps to go and cars are two and five laps down and blocking, it’s just disrespectful. We’ll deal with that another day.”
Rossi shook this encounter off, however, and locked in. He retook the lead from Simon Pagenaud with 23 laps remaining. But on the third turn of Lap 177, Graham Rahal bumped Sebastian Bourdais during a pass attempt, which sent the two spinning. The ensuing mayhem wiped Andretti Autosport teammate Zach Veach from the race, as well as Felix Rosenqvist.
“I think that was the biggest hit I have ever had on an oval,” Veach said. “The Gainbridge car was so good. It was one of the best cars I have ever had. I hated it for the team. They did an incredible job. I hate it for the people supporting me. It’s tough. Hopefully, we can come back and have a little more luck on our side next year.”
The carnage resulted in a red flag for track cleanup. This gave Pagenaud the opportunity he needed to catch up. Just as the green flag waved at the start-finish line, Pagenaud made his move and retook the lead from Rossi.
The remainder of the race was a battle between the two with five lead changes in the final 13 laps. For most of this back-and-forth, it looked like Rossi’s race to lose. Ever the aggressor, Rossi pushed Pagenaud every time he managed to steal a lead. With three laps left, Rossi snuck inside of Pagenaud and appeared primed for his second kiss of the bricks.
However, Pagenaud flipped the script and showed aggression himself with just over a lap remaining in the race. Pagenaud took back the lead and fended off multiple Rossi pass attempts for the final few turns of his first Indianapolis 500 victory.
“They did a great job,” Rossi said of Pagenaud and his team. “Obviously, he was on pole and led the most laps, but I think we had the superior car. We just didn’t have enough there at the end. This one will be hard to get over, but at the end of the day, it was a great showing for the team and good for the points overall. But today will suck for a while.”