On Lap 37, Rossi’s Andretti Autosport-Honda emerged from the pits on cold tires, leaving him vulnerable to an attack from the Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda. At the right-handed Turn 4, Rahal slithered up the inside of Rossi, but his left front wing endplate sliced into Rossi’s right-front tire when the former F1 driver turned in.
The pair carried on to the left-handed Turn 5, but Rossi’s car wouldn’t turn in due to its puncture, and Rahal couldn’t turn in because he was fully alongside the Andretti machine but now on the outside of the turn.
Hence the pair nosed into the tire barrier on the outside of T5. Rahal was able to get going again after several seconds but needed a new front wing, while Rossi lost two laps as he attempted to restart and then had to limp back to the pits for new tires and also a front wing.
However, both drivers defused the situation with placatory words on NBC.
“I was out of the pits on cold tires, felt like I gave him room, one of those racing things,” said Rossi. “Unfortunate with the flat tire.
“I wasn’t trying to drive him out, but it came from the contact, so one of those things.
“Graham and I have a great relationship, and I don’t think it was intentional. Just unfortunate. I think we had a shot at the top five with this car. It wasn’t meant to be – again.”
Rahal agreed it was “a racing incident”.
He said: “I had a slow pitstop and I think he did too. He blocked into Turn 4, and you’ve got to make the move and we hit wheel to wheel.
“It was a shame with his flat right-front. I think we both could have continued with our days. Missed opportunity.”
Rossi, who went winless in 2020 and threw away a probable win at St. Petersburg last October, was asked by NBC about the sense of frustration after today’s incident.
“The frustration built last year, to our cost [but] it’s much different to last year: the car is much faster, that’s the harder problem to fix.
“At one point things will line up for us.”