Rossi Returns to California Roots
Alexander Rossi, the rookie driver from Auburn, California, who returned Honda to Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, can't wait to get to Sonoma Raceway, one of the few circuits on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule where he had raced prior to 2016.
"I think the tracks where I've had previous experience, like Sonoma, have been, for lack of a better word, the 'easier' ones for me," Rossi said. "The rest were completely new to me this year.
"My goal from the beginning of day one in IndyCar was to be fighting at the front. That outlook is no different, but for sure there are certain tracks that I looked forward to from the aspect of I just know where they go and kind of how they drive a little bit: Road America, Mid-Ohio and now Sonoma."
Rossi set his sights on the Formula One World Championship when he was just 10 years old and moved to Europe when he was 16 to try to achieve that goal. But as Rossi's traveled down his career path, he discovered the destination isn't always guaranteed.
"The goal was to get to Formula One. The reason I went to Europe was I won a test with BMW Sauber F1 after winning the Formula BMW World Finals in 2008. I went over there, started racing in Europe. Got involved as a junior development driver. I started to learn the world of Formula One and stayed in that kind of role all the way through 2014 when I got an opportunity to be the reserve driver for Marussia.
"Things didn't go quite according to plan for 2016 in Europe, [but] things worked out incredibly well for me to come here and work with Andretti Autosport with a car they were forming with Bryan Herta."
The saga of Alexander Rossi took a dramatic turn on Memorial Day Sunday, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
"Actually all of Sunday morning I was questioning whether or not I was nervous enough," Rossi recalled. "I walked into the garage feeling completely fine and everyone around me you could feel the tension, you could feel the kind of pressure and stress. I felt like I should probably feel a little more concerned about this, but it really never came. I think it was just relief actually more than anything when I got into the car on the grid because we had been talking about what this event was going to be for so long, and to finally then get in the car and be able to go do what I'm most comfortable doing was actually taking pressure off."
Race Day for the 100th Indianapolis 500 would be the first time Rossi ever attended the Indy 500 in person. Little did he know at that time that he would steal the show. He was battling for 10th just before the halfway point, then came a pit stop that could have doomed the rookie driver. The fuel hose would not engage properly, costing Rossi valuable time. Instead, his team turned it into the opportunity that would allow him to win the race.
When the green flag waved on Lap 104, Rossi showed his speed by posting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 106 at 225.288 miles per hour in his Honda. Then he spent the final 90 laps of the race in fuel conservation mode and that allowed him to go further on a tank of fuel than the other competitors. He pitted for the final time on Lap 164 and realized how he could save fuel to the finish.
"The nerves certainly came about 15 laps from the end when I thought, okay, we maybe have a shot at this, but there's going to be a lot of things that need to work out," Rossi recalled. "At the end I was definitely, definitely very nervous."
Rossi followed the plan perfectly, stretching his final tank of fuel for the final 36 laps of the race. With the checkered flag waving, Rossi was 4.495-seconds ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Carlos Munoz.
"Indianapolis is a race where you have to have everything go right to win, but we had a lot of things go wrong, yet it still came good. I don't think anyone will ever figure out the Indy 500, and that's why it's such a special race for all of us. That's why it's the greatest race in the world."
But, who is this cool and calm 24-year-old driver who speaks with an accent that can best be described as "Euro-Californian" and what are his future goals?
In the days after his life-changing moment, Rossi brushes off any questions about his career goals.
"There were huge question marks, rightly so, over me and IndyCar and specifically oval racing, having absolutely zero background," Rossi said. "We all know it's a different kind of animal in terms of the motorsports world. I think that this has kind of cemented the fact that, A, I don't have an issue with it, B, I do enjoy it, and C, I've fully committed to this program and being successful in IndyCar, and this is what I'm looking towards for the future.
"And I definitely want to finish out the year, here at Sonoma, in the strongest possible way."