Rossi podium highlights strong day in Toronto for Andretti Autosport

Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

It took a bit of luck to get there, but Andretti Autosport enjoyed one of their strongest days of 2017 on the streets of Toronto.

Starting eighth, 11th and 16th after an untimely yellow hurt their efforts in qualifying, the trio of Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared to have a long way to climb to get the the front in the Honda Indy Toronto. But a fortuitous caution for Tony Kanaan on lap 23 – shortly after the trio’s first round of pit stops –  proved to be the difference in their day.

While the caution bit teammate Takuma Sato, who had yet to pit, it allowed Andretti Autosports’s other trio of drivers to cycle out ahead of those in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock that had yet to make a pit stop. When everything cycled through all three drivers found themselves inside of the top 10.

From there the trio held on to tally impressive results.

As the checkered flag flew, it was Rossi that carried the Andretti banner in second – his first podium finish since last May’s remarkable Indianapolis 500 victory. Reveling in the run, the Californian expressed relief over his best finish of the season.

“This finish has been a long time coming,” Rossi said. “We had the Indy win, but I’ve been looking for that first podium and hopefully this will be a foundation to go and chase more wins. I’m relieved that we finally kind of got the monkey off our back.”

For Rossi the weekend proved symbolic of his entire season, as Andretti’s continual fight and improvement was finally rewarded with a finish he felt the team deserved.

“It was a huge turnaround overnight by Andretti Autosport to get the car where it needed to be for the race today,” Rossi said. “Qualifying was a huge effort for the whole team. I’m very proud of Honda for the effort they’ve made. As we’ve said, this year has been a huge turnaround.”

It’s been a difficult season for Andretti. The Pennsylvanian’s Toronto weekend began with outright denial of rumors that he would leave full-time Indy car competition in 2018, saying “That’s just the journalist doing as bad of a job as I’m doing this year.”

While he just missed the podium, Andretti’s season-best result of fourth was enough to elicit some optimism from the third-generation driver, qualifying issue aside.

“I think [it seemed like] we were quiet all weekend because we got hosed by that yellow in qualifying,” Andretti said. “But, I think our pace was actually about sixth or seventh so we’re happy to come away with a fourth.”

Hinter-Reay couldn’t match the pace of his teammates and lost fifth late in a battle with Simon Pagenaud, but the Floridian was still happy with the result after starting deep in the field.

“We had a bit of a handful today, for sure,” Hunter-Reay said. “The result was a good turnaround, though. Really nice good job by Alex [Rossi], finishing second and Marco [Andretti] grabbing fourth.

“We had a great battle with Simon [Pagenaud]. I was almost able to hold him off to keep fifth, but we just couldn’t keep it and finished sixth. I just got too loose at the end. I think I burnt the rears off trying to catch Marco. That’s the way it goes, though. Overall, it was a pretty good day and a good turnaround from last year.”

Andretti Autosport weren’t all left smiling leaving Toronto. Their best championship hope was all-but eliminated as Sato struggled to a 16th-place run – the Japanese driver’s third-consecutive finish outside of the top 15.

With his result Sato dropped back to seventh in the championship with 351 points, 72 markers behind leader Scott Dixon. Rossi rose to eighth with 330 points, while Andretti and Hunter-Reay slotted in 13th and 14th with point totals of 273 and 268, respectively.

The quartet will get their next shot at the podium at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 30.

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