Alexander Rossi finally ended his three-year winless streak to take victory in the Gallagher Grand Prix.
Just over three years after his last victory at Road America, Rossi returned to victory lane after holding rookie Christian Lundgaard at bay for most of the race’s second salvo.
The final race of the season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway featured a mixed-up grid that saw several championship contenders in unusual positions.
Felix Rosenqvist would start pole for the second time this season with Rossi alongside him on the front row. Iowa winner Pato O’Ward hoped to be able to make it back-to-back wins from third with Will Power fourth ahead of Josef Newgarden and Lundgaard, who continues to impress for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Alex Palou was hoping to put his off-track troubles behind him from seventh whilst the man tipped to replace him at Chip Ganassi Racing, Rinus Veekay, started alongside the defending series champion in eighth spot with row five consisting of Colton Herta and Conor Daly.
Scott McLaughlin and Scott Dixon would have plenty of work to do from 15th and 20th, respectively, but championship leader Marcus Ericsson would have a mountain to climb after an engine failure consigned him to last on the grid.
McLaughlin would start the race on the alternate compound of tyres, with Jimmie Johnson, Devlin DeFrancesco, Kyle Kirkwood and Romain Grosjean also starting the race on the red-coloured tyres whilst the remaining 20 runners began on the primaries.
When the green flag dropped, Rosenqvist covered Rossi off and held his lead into Turn one as Newgarden shot up to third after braking ultra late into the corner. But as Rosenqvist led the field through Turn three, his teammate was spun around after Herta squeezed Power into O’Ward, spinning the Mexican around and dropping him to last.
Dalton Kellett’s dreadful weekend hit another snag on Lap four after making contact with Johnson at Turn seven, stalling the engine and bringing out the caution; further, up the track Helio Castroneves attempted an overly zealous overtake on his former teammate Power, clattering into the Australian and David Malukas although the trio was able to escape the melee undamaged.
With the pace car out, Power and O Ward decided to pit for fresh rubber before racing resumed on Lap six, with Rosenqvist holding his lead on the run-up to Turn one until Rossi tried and failed to take the lead off the Swede, only for him to go wide and lose second to Herta. Meanwhile, Newgarden was ordered to give up two positions after going wide at Turn one and gaining an advantage.
But Rosenqvist’s stint in the lead was short-lived as first Herta and then Rossi flew past on Lap eight chicane, with Lundgaard taking advantage of the Swede’s lack of pace to move into third spot one lap later.
Veekay, Dixon and Malukas pitted on Lap 11 for a set of alternatives rejoining a lap behind race leader Rossi with Palou, Newgarden and Daly next in for a set of the alternatives. Unfortunately for Daly, he stalled in the pits costing several positions as his pit crew tried to get his engine started.
The leading quartet came in on Lap 14 for their first stops, with the Gainsbridge crew getting Herta back out in the net race lead ahead of Rossi and Lundgaard. Further, back Grosjean was the next to stall when in for tyres dropping him to the back.
On Lap 24, McLaughlin stopped for tyres slotting in eighth behind Lundgaard, whilst Ericsson came in for his first stop dropping him to 19th and behind Malukas.
Although they had stopped earlier, O’Ward and Power were now getting reeled in by Herta, Rossi and Lundgaard, and the trio made light work of O’Ward, who didn’t put up much of a fight into Turn one with the Mexican pitting for a set of primaries not long after. Power too came in for another set of tyres on Lap 32, conceding the race lead to Herta.
Simon Pagenaud’s dead engine on Lap 38 brought out the second caution of the race, with the majority of the field heading down pit road to make their second stops as the number 60 Meyer Shank machine was removed before racing restarted on Lap 40.
Then on Lap 42, just as he was starting to build a cushion between himself and his Andretti Autosport, teammate Herta suffered a loss of drive approaching Turn 12, handing the lead to Rossi as the Californian toured into retirement after a stellar drive.
Herta’s retirement that Rossi could now build a gap over four seconds between himself and Lundgaard as the final round of stops approached. Power was over 11 seconds back in third, but crucially he would take the championship lead if positions stayed exactly as they were.
When the leaders finally made their final stops on Lap 60, Rossi’s Napa crew rose to the occasion, getting their driver back out in front of Lundgaard and McLaughlin, only for the Kiwi to lose third to Power not long after the stops.
All of this was academical to Rossi as he ended a 49-race winless streak with victory ahead of a superb Lundgaard and Power, who took the championship lead with third place.
McLaughlin led home Newgarden and Veekay, with Graham Rahal, Dixon, Rosenqvist and Palou rounding off the top 10.
Shortly after being raised into victory relief, a relieved Rossi praised his crew's mental resilience and ability to keep pushing forward even when results didn’t go their way.
“It’s a lot of relief, I think, is the main word. We’ve had some race wins that we’ve thrown away for sure, and we’ve had some weekends when we’ve not had the pace, but I think we knew that things were trending in a good direction this year, and we had a solid test a month ago, and I think the one constant has been the mental strength of the team.”
“As challenging it is for me, it’s hard for them; they go in every day and work their butts off, and when they don’t get results, it’s hard for them as well, so I think as a unit, it’s one of our strengths that we can push forward. It’s a big team win, and it’s a big thank you to the organisation; the cars were fast; it sucks what happened to Colton, but I’ve had my fair share of things, so it comes full circles sometimes, so it’s got to be up here.