Watkins Glen International saw rain showers in the morning, ruling the 1:45 p.m. race a “wet start.” After just one lap, the field came to pit lane to trade their Firestone rain tires for a set of racing slicks. That first stop is where the drama began. The No. 26 car of Takuma Sato saw a mechanical issue that resulted in a long pit stop. Just four laps later, the yellow flag was waved for James Hinchcliffe which allowed the 26 car to come back into the pits for fuel and complete additional maintenance.
On Lap 15 the yellow flag was again waved, this time for Sato venturing off-track. During the yellow, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both made their way back to pit lane for fresh tires and fuel. A lengthy pit stop due to a pit equipment malfunction sent the No. 98 back out into the field, short on fuel. When the race went back to green, Marco Andretti shuffled up to the third position, but Rossi and Hunter-Reay quickly gained position and made their way to first and second, respectively, by Lap 23.
Forced to go off-strategy, the No. 98 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda came back into the pits to fill up on fuel and Ryan Hunter-Reay took over the lead. After leading four laps, another yellow flag was thrown and Hunter-Reay and the remainder of the field came in for their third stop. The caution worked out in Rossi’s favor as he regained the lead after falling to 17th.
Rossi was running over a 10 second gap ahead of second when the final caution came out. Bunching the field back together, Ryan Hunter-Reay’s DHL machine tried to overtake second place Scott Dixon and Dixon tried to run down Rossi. When the checkered flag was waved, it was Alexander Rossi and the NAPA AUTO PARTS car driving to victory lane to celebrate and spray champagne. The win was the second for the Andretti-Herta Autosport w/ Curb Agajanian, and the fourth podium partnership that formed in February 2016.
Ryan Hunter-Reay joined his teammate on the podium, raising his corning glass trophy from the final step and collecting his third podium finish of the season. While running in ninth, Marco Andretti made contact on Lap 53 dropping the third-generation driver to 16th when he crossed the finish line. Takuma Sato endured a race full of misfortune. The 2017 Indy 500 winner finished the INDYCAR Grand Prix four laps down in the 19th position.
Alexander Rossi – No. 98 NAPA AUTO PARTS / Curb Honda
“An amazing job by the whole team today. We had an issue in the beginning with some fuel, the fuel thing, but whatever. It doesn’t matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s a huge team effort. I’ve talked about so much how much we’ve improved, I’m so happy we’re finally able to win.”
About battle to the end with Dixon:
“We had a fast car. I knew we had a fast car because we were hitting a fuel number before the final stop and we had pace. I knew he was going to be pushing like hell at the end, and so it was really 12 qualifying laps, and I had the car to do it. We had time, we had the pace, the performance, the tire life, everything was going our way. A huge hats off to Andretti-Herta Autosport. Thank you to NAPA AUTO PARTS, thank you to Honda. We’re coming really hard for 2018.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay – No. 28 DHL Honda
“The guys did a really good job on pit lane today – amazing job. It got us a lot of track position. It was strange where the yellows fell, we had to come through the field a couple of times. All in all we had a pretty good car, we were just lacking a little bit of front grip to keep up to these two. We have to be happy with a podium, but congrats to the No. 98 team and Alexander [Rossi] on his win, he was certainly in top form this weekend.”
Marco Andretti – No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda
“We just didn’t have the pace we needed today. After starting in 20th, we were able to get up into the top five with strategy but then fell back a bit. We had a top-nine finish coming, and then [Sebastien] Bourdais totally dive-bombed us taking both of us off the track. It bent my tie rod and we were just limping home.”
Takuma Sato – No. 26 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda
“We made a good start. Coming up to the hill P2, we were all set very nicely and I felt, basically, no power. We tried to figure out what was going on. I tried to reset the car on the track – it failed. Everything went zero. Pitting, then came back a few laps down and found a waste gate problem. After that, we were back up to speed but, I think, at the time we were three laps down. Nothing we could do, but at the end of the day, we had the fastest lap – the fastest car on the track. Big congrats to my teammate Alex [Rossi] for his win on the road course and to Ryan [Hunter-Reay] for getting a strong showing. It’s a shame, but as a team, I think we showed trim in the speed so that was a good weekend.”