It wouldn't be a Tuesday morning if Indycar reporters, fans, and drivers alike were still discuss Alexander Rossi's tactics from the past Sunday's race.
Rossi, who by all means have come alive in the 2018 season and now sits in 2nd place in points behind Scott Dixon, has seemingly been made into Indycar's "bad guy." To date, Rossi's tactics and moves have not yet received a penalty, despite having been investigated by Indycar stewards multiple times. And Sunday's race from Mid Ohio was no exception.
Starting from pole, Rossi led the field through The Keyhole, but as he entered the straight leading up to the starting line, Rossi slowed, bunching up the field behind him, only to sprint off into the distance and safely protecting his P1 through the first series of corners.
After the race, Rossi's semi-rival Robert Wickens, said of the move, ""I thought it was cheeky. Alex definitely changed the speed before he accelerated. He obviously had a much shorter first gear than anyone else around us. He just took off. "
"The whole thing, slowly increased the speed, accelerated," Wickens continued. "Went on the edge of being early, but I thought it was a little cheeky how he changed the speed."
Rossi responded to Wicken's claims by saying, ""Well, as the pole-sitter, I can dictate the pace," he said. "That’s my right as a reward for winning pole."
"Even when I’m not even near him on track, he complains about me," Rossi continued, speaking about Wickens. "I don’t know, man, it’s just whatever. "
It should be said that Wickens and Rossi have a deep friendship off track and often appear in one another's social media posts and stories. That said, Sunday's race start gives us a chance to break down the starting procedure and examine whether or not Rossi was in the right.
At this point this start is nominal. Rossi leads the field, Power to his left in P2. He starts around the Keyhole at safety car speed (60-80 mph). The field in not in a perfect two wide formation, but they do not need to be until all cars have entered the onto straight.
Rossi accelerates out of the turn. What we normally see at moments like this is a leader begin to pull away, using the natural concetina effect of the corner to propel him off the line and leave the other cars behind him. It appears, at this moment, that is exactly what Rossi is doing.
It is at this point, however, Rossi begins to lift. Slightly at first. The field begins to assemble behind him in 2x2 fashion. Most would attribute this to a desire to allow the field to form up. Although not seen often nowadays, Indycar does dictate that starts need to be neat and orderly and officials are within their rights to wave off a start if the rows are not in decent order.
For a split second it would appear we have a perfect start, as the field lines up in order. However, the only reason for the seemingly perfect formation is that Rossi has slowed to a near crawl. It was speculated on air, although never confirmed, that Rossi may have been going as slow as 30 mph, a snails pace for an Indycar.
Scott Dixon is the first real victim of Rossi's slow down as the Kiwi (5 back on the right) is forced to move to the right to avoid running into the car in front of him. The leaders of the pack are smash together, no one able to pass a car, due to regulations on passing under the safety car.
True mayhem begins as Rossi's slow down causes the field to look more like a parking lot than an orderly 2x2 start. Daly, Hinchcliffe, Veach, and Sato are all forced wide in one way or another as they desperately try to avoid contact with the cars in front. Still, Rossi remains slow.
The field now properly bunched up, Rossi bolts, taking off down the log drag into the China Beach. Because the field was surprised and forced to bunch up behind the #27 driver, he has a significant advantage and is able to start pulling out a lead over Power, Hunter-Reay, and Newgarden.
Rossi presses his advantage as the green flag flies and racing truly begins. While Power, Hunter-Reay, and Newgarden squabble for 2nd place. Rossi is long gone.
By the time they reach the starting line, Rossi has already built up a two and a half car length lead. Later in the first stint, his fuel strategy would hamper him and force him to drop back slightly, but thank in large part to his two stop strategy (and this start) Rossi would go on to dominate the rest of the race.
In post race interviews Rossi said the following, "We knew the rundown to turn four is as long as it was, we needed to get a good start. We practiced that and that was our plan all along."
And if it was, indeed, his plan all along, he executed it flawlessly.
There were many, like Robert Wickens, who were less than thrilled at Rossi's antics, but the truth of the matter is that Rossi did absolutely nothing wrong. Rossi was polesitter. It is his prerogative to dictate the pace of the formation lap when the pace car has pulled into the pits, and that's exactly what he did.
Was it slightly 'dirty?' Yes. It was. It was a move that Paul Tracy would have been proud of. But the truth is that, more than anything, it showed just how smart Rossi is both in and out of the car. If we take him at his word and believe that the team's plan from the get go was to slow down the field to a crawl, it shows an uncanny understanding of the Indycar rule book and of the stewards decision making.
Rossi knew the move would be questionable, but he and his team also knew that is was within the rules, even if just barely. The move shows heads up and racing smarts. It's the kind of move that wins races. And more importantly, wins championships.