Why Rossi declined Arrow McLaren offer: ‘It’s a fine line if you start to devalue yourself’

Why Rossi declined Arrow McLaren offer: 'It's a fine line if you start to devalue yourself'

As the latest Arrow McLaren driver to have been shown the door – at the end of the 2024 IndyCar season when his two-year contract runs out – Alexander Rossi sounds every bit like a businessman on Wall Street walking away from a deal that had run its course.

There are no secret clauses involved in this latest driver swap at the hands of Zak Brown, Gavin Ward and Tony Kanaan – no broken bones, impending lawsuits or surprise back-stabbings either. Rossi’s inability to come to terms on a new deal with Arrow McLaren’s sporting director (Kanaan), team principal (Ward) and CEO (Brown) is rather boring, actually, as the 32-year-old driver explained to IndyStar on Wednesday morning.

It’s strictly business, though it would be easy for the implication that Arrow McLaren brass were unwilling to offer Rossi anything more than a one-year deal with a one-year option while the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner is in the midst of his best season in five years to feel anything but.

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Despite a resurgent 2024 IndyCar campaign, Alexander Rossi will move on from Arrow McLaren, his home of two years, at the end of the 2024 season.

Talks that picked up in late-May and by the end of the Detroit weekend seemed to be pointing towards a reunion fell apart in recent weeks once Rossi and his father Pieter (who also serves as his manager) and Brown, Ward and Kanaan had wholly separate views for their potential future together.

Rossi’s views were akin to the roles Team Penske’s Will Power and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon have at their organizations for more than a decade (and in the former’s case, more than two), as a veteran presence capable of weathering change, leading the charge on development and, when the opportunity presents itself, winning races, 500s and championships. The team saw him as a bridge driver to someone better – and someone who, if locked down for more than one season, could keep the team from upgrading if they so chose.

“Our conversations were always about, ‘How does this look for both of us?’ It wasn’t necessarily cut-and-dry that we were going to sign the original agreement,” Rossi told IndyStar on Wednesday. “And those conversations proceeded along and ultimately got to a point where there just wasn’t enough common ground for it to really have any legs going forward.

“I kinda got that indication going into (the Laguna Seca race weekend) but it was all official the Tuesday after Laguna.”

Ironically, that news came 48 hours after his first podium of the year and a race Rossi and the No. 7 Chevy looked like a legit race-winning threat more than they have at any point in their 25 starts together.

“This isn’t really a negative situation, though,” Rossi continued. “There’s often so many negative stories about drivers and teams going their separate ways – especially lately – but this isn’t one of those. This is one of those things that happen in sports where you just can’t meet in the middle.

“This team has their own responsibilities, and I have my own, too, and that’s where it ends. No one’s going to make massive sacrifices to get to a place. That’s just not the way things work. We just have to look at all of this as a pretty cool experience, for me, to have been part of this team’s growth and witness individuals come into the sport from having never seen an Indy car and go through quite a challenging up-and-down learning year in 2023 to having one of the stronger seasons I’ve had in quite some time in the championship and continuing that and maximizing everything. I take a lot of pride in how I was able to help get us to that point.”

From 2023: Why Alexander Rossi left initial IndyCar home at an Andretti for project with McLaren

Despite a resurgent 2024 IndyCar campaign, Alexander Rossi will move on from Arrow McLaren, his home of two years, at the end of the 2024 season.

Rossi’s first taste of running with Arrow McLaren in anger came in a two-day, series-wide open test in February of 2023 during an offseason where the team had onboarded more than 40 new employees – many of whom would be manning Rossi’s No. 7 Chevy, and several of whom had no prior IndyCar (or even racing) experience. That first day was hampered by everything from mechanical issues to lost gloves and, for a time, his misplaced helmet.

But that Rossi and the No. 7 crew finished out a bumpy season that included six top-5s and 11 top-10s and ended up 9th – matching or beating his points finish in each of his final three seasons with Andretti Global – was a sign of what could be to come. The idea that he’d switched manufacturers and joined a team that in recent years produced a car tough to drive by anyone not named Pato O’Ward and weathered everything that came with that and still finished in what had been his ceiling in recent years was seen to be a positive.

Though his start to 2024 hadn’t been world-beating, with six top-10s, three top-5s and a podium at Laguna Seca, he’s proven to have perhaps the most consistently competitive entry outside serious title contenders Alex Palou, Will Power and Scott Dixon. Though presently sitting 7th in points, he’s only 10 out of 6th, 12 out of 5th and 19 out of 4th. When you consider Arrow McLaren conservatively gave away 40 points or more in Rossi’s 2024 campaign by not properly securing a wheel and sending him out of the pits at Barber (25th), followed by a mechanical failure at Road America (18th), it’s reasonable to imagine the alternate reality where Rossi sits in 4th and within an arm’s reach of Dixon and Power heading into Mid-Ohio this weekend.

And it’s why Rossi told IndyStar he wasn’t interested in a short-term prove-it deal that would’ve been required for him to stay at Arrow McLaren. According to a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations, the team got so far as to have made Rossi an offer, but one he declined.

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Despite a resurgent 2024 IndyCar campaign, Alexander Rossi will move on from Arrow McLaren, his home of two years, at the end of the 2024 season.

“It’s a fine line if you start to devalue yourself. It can be very hard to recover from that,” Rossi said. “I know what I’m capable of in the second half of the season. The first half has been relatively strong, and for me, it’s about proving myself every single time you get into a racecar.

“You have to earn your spot in this sport, and that’s the reality of it. If anything, it gives us more freedom to focus on everything we can do to put the best possible racecar on-track to try and win some races to finish this off.”

Rossi contends he pays no mind to the idea he’s essentially been replaced twice in three years by drivers several years his junior. More than three years ago, just over a year into his final three-year contract with Andretti Global and fed up with the combination of the team’s on and off-track mistakes and his own inability to adjust to the aeroscreen era, Rossi declined Michael Andretti’s suggestion to sign his driver option and return for another year in 2023.

According to Andretti, after multiple approaches, the team signed Kyle Kirkwood, while the eventual Indy Lights champ was in the midst of his title-winning campaign. Andretti contends that after he’d executed his ‘Plan B,’ the Rossis returned with a change of heart, but there was no turning back. Rossi, meanwhile, felt as if the decision to leave Andretti had partially been made for him when he was unwilling to sign an option with the better part of two seasons left on the original deal.

That he’s now been replaced by 22-year-old Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing race-winner Christian Lundgaard by a team who sees more forward-looking promise and potential in the young Dane only fires up the resurgent Rossi more.

Rossi also points to a the championship standings where seven of the those in the top-10 are at least 27 years old and six are 31 or older.

Despite a resurgent 2024 IndyCar campaign, Alexander Rossi will move on from Arrow McLaren, his home of two years, at the end of the 2024 season.

“I don’t look at things about age, but I think I’m motivated to beat everyone no matter who it is,” he said. “But that there’s actually more guys over 30 than under 30 (in the top-10) I think says enough in itself.

“This championship is highly rewarding to experience, highly rewarding to being able to operate in a wide array of different situations. This series is about being able to be quick in key elements of a race weekend and being able to have an even-keel focus throughout it because there’s going to be punches in the face that are completely out of your control, and you can’t let that faze you. There’s plenty of guys who are young and fast in this sport and every sport, but I think IndyCar is really rewarding to having seen it all before. This year is no different.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Alexander Rossi is upbeat after walking away from Arrow McLaren


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