IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi expects to do better. In his second season, the Nevada City native wants to improve and win more than one race.
But it will take some racing to top his history-making rookie accomplishment: Rossi won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
In a startling upset last May, Rossi became the first American rookie to win the Indy 500 since 1928. That followed a career in Europe where the young driver became only the third American to race Formula One in the past 25 years.
IndyCar’s 2016 Rookie of the Year, Rossi finished strong with a fifth place in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, but he didn’t slow down. During the series’ winter break, Rossi re-signed with Andretti-Herta Autosport, a collaboration of teams owned by Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta forged just before the 2016 season. In January, Rossi competed in Miami’s Race of Champions against star drivers from around the world. In March, he moved from Los Angeles to Indianapolis full time.
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This week, the 25-year-old rising star drives the No. 98 Honda in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. We caught up with Rossi during a pit stop in Sacramento:
Q. Welcome back to California. Have you had any time to enjoy this return?
A: I’m here for such a short visit. I landed at 3 a.m. Monday, had a full day of media (interviews), (did) testing at Sonoma Tuesday, then down to Long Beach (for this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix). Not a lot of fun stuff – other than driving race cars.
Q. How was your offseason?
A: It was very busy. We had a lot going on. It was six months, but felt like three weeks.
Q. Has it finally sunk in that you’re an Indy 500 winner?
A: The realization came in waves. A couple of days after (the race), then weeks, then months; each time, a little more. The full realization came when my likeness was revealed on the Borg-Warner Trophy in December. That was very cool.
But now, it’s a new season. We’ve already run one race (finishing 11th at St. Petersburg, Fla.). We have a job to do. I don’t want to dwell on (Indy). I want to focus on driving and winning the next race.
Q: What are your expectations?
A: Last year – except for the month of May (at Indianapolis) – was a struggle. This season, we’ve made a lot of changes with car development. We have much higher expectations than where we finished last year. We won Indy, but finished 11th in the standings.
Q: Do you like driving Long Beach?
A: It’s probably the highlight street course we go to all year. There’s a lot of history in Long Beach. It’s always beautiful, a fun race, super exciting. It helps to have a fast race car, no doubt.
I like driving street courses. It’s a different kind of skill. That’s what makes this (IndyCar) championship so special. The skills you need to win are double any other (motor sports) championship on the planet. Ovals, street courses, road courses; they’re all mixed in (to the schedule). It’s a lot of fun. It’s a challenge for the driver.
Q: What do you prefer?
A: I prefer the permanent road courses (such as Sonoma Raceway) the most. That’s where most of my experience is and where I should be strongest. (On the oval tracks) I absolutely love Indy, but I also enjoy Texas and Iowa. That’s one area as a team where I think we can improve.
Q: This season’s finale also will be at Sonoma. Are you looking forward to it?
A: Definitely! It’s great; that’s my home track. Last year, I had close to 100 guests. It was cool and exciting – and hectic – at the same time. A lot of people from Nevada City who grew up with me but hadn’t actually seen me race. I went straight to Europe so early in my career. For a lot of them, Sonoma was the first time to see me drive.
Q: Do you think about returning to Europe?
A: Not now. There’s a lot for me to accomplish here now. ... Motor sports is changing. IndyCar is one of the few championships that’s very proactive. They’re working very hard to do the right things for the long term, as well as the short term. IndyCar is growing exponentially each year (in TV ratings and fan interest), and we’ll continue doing that.
Q:What’s your goal this season?
A: To win. I’d love to win the 500 again. But a lot of races last year, we struggled. This season, the goal is to be more consistent overall.