In the high-stakes world of motor sports, money often speaks louder than talent. Alexander Rossi learned that the hard way a couple of weeks ago.
Rossi, 24, who was born in Auburn and raised in Nevada City, has spent more than half his life working toward his goal of driving in Formula One. He thought he had a ride with Manor Marussia’s F-1 team for the 2016 season until the Indonesian government threw so much cash at Manor that it gave the seat to Rio Haryanto, despite Rossi’s five F-1 starts in 2015 for Manor and his second-place finish in the Grand Prix 2 standings last season.
“I’m surprised with all that happened and things were looking positive for an F-1 ride (in 2016),” Rossi said. “It was one of those behind-the-scenes things and they offered (Manor) a substantial financial package. It’s just part of the sport, part of the business.”
But Rossi was offered a ride with Michael Andretti Autosport to drive its No. 98 car during the 2016 IndyCar season and he took it – no matter if the bulk of IndyCar races take place on ovals. Rossi will readily “forget” how to turn right if it means advancing his career and becoming so successful that money will never rip him from a ride again.
“(Michael) Andretti called me and offered me the ride,” Rossi said. “I took a week to evaluate my options and decided driving for Andretti Autosport was the best decision.”
The ride became available after a merger between Bryan Herta Autosport and Andretti Autosport teams. Herta will serve as the race strategist for Rossi while Tom German will be Rossi’s lead engineer.
“We’re really excited to have Alexander join the team,” Andretti said in a release. “His credentials speak for his ability, and we’re confident he’ll transition seamlessly into IndyCar racing. It’s neat to have the last three American F-1 drivers in 25 years be under one roof. I think it speaks to the level of talent we have.”
Rossi has made 209 Formula car starts since 2012 and has 42 wins, 75 podiums and 36 poles. Michael Andretti, Scott Speed and Rossi are the last three American-born drivers to compete in Formula One. Speed is competing this season in Andretti’s Global Rallycross team.
Rossi completed two days of testing on Wednesday at Florida’s Sebring International Raceway in preparation for the 2016 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13 – IndyCar’s season-opening race.
“There isn’t a whole lot of difference between an F-1 and IndyCar other than tires and engine specs,” said Rossi, who drove 15-20 laps each day to get acclimated to the new ride. “At the end of the day it’s a race car.”
Auburn’s Andy Forsberg was the fastest qualifier and won his eight-lap heat race and the 25-lap main event of the Sherm and Loree Toller Memorial Race Saturday at the Marysville Raceway.
Forsberg collided with a lapped sprint car with seven laps remaining in the main and broke his right, front torsion arm yet still managed to hang on for the victory.
“I have no idea how we survived those final few laps,” Forsberg said in a release. “Our front end is pretty beat up and looks like the front axle is bent. This is a big thing for me. I started my racing career at Ernie Purssell Speedway (Grass Valley) and that’s where I met Sherm and his family. This is a race I always wanted to win.”
Street Machine Drags
Drag racing for street legal vehicles takes place each Wednesday night through November at Sacramento Raceway Park, 5305 Excelsior Road. Elapsed-time races for cars, trucks, minivans, sports utility vehicles, et cetera, are held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Trophies are awarded to winners each week and all vehicles must have mufflers. Race entry is $20 per car and driver. General admission is $8.
For more information, call (916) 363-2653 or go to www.sacramentoraceway.com.
Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.