Alexander Rossi’s Ascent to INDYCAR Elite

Rossi in early 2016.
Alexander Rossi’s Ascent to INDYCAR Elite
Rossi in early 2016.

When he first came to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2016, Alexander Rossi was a fish out of water. Groomed to compete in Formula One (F1), his Manor Marussia team was about to disband, there were no other offers of value and the only solution appeared to be a homecoming.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be for the Nevada City, California-born Rossi. He’d risen through the ranks, from the Skip Barber National Championship series, where he became champion at the age of 14, through Formula BMW USA to the international Formula BMW championship, where he won the series’ 2008 World Final in Mexico City.

Gaining an F1 test with [then] BMW Sauber F1 team, Rossi decided to compete in Europe in 2009, where he learned in the International Formula Master series, moving to GP3 the following year and then to World Series by Renault, which propelled him to GP2, the final rung on the ladder prior to gaining an F1 seat. He finished second in that championship in 2015.

Alexander Rossi’s Ascent to INDYCAR Elite
Rossi in 2016 Indy 500 victory lane.

At the same time Rossi was an F1 test driver, starting that phase of his career in 2012 with Caterham F1, driving in several Friday sessions for the team. He moved to Manor Marussia in mid-2014 when Caterham management changed and became their reserve driver. Rossi was entered in five of the final seven races in 2015, with a best finish of 12th at his home, US Grand Prix in Austin.

Although he had the option of racing with Manor in 2016 after serving as reserve for half the season, Rossi made the decision to change gears and head home to the US, joining Andretti Autosport for the entire 2016 season. It was a good move on his part, but he had to wait a while before his car and team were ready for him and he could learn – or re-learn – tracks he’d raced at home so long ago.

As he stood in the Andretti Autosport pits during a February 2016 test day on the Phoenix one-mile oval, Rossi looked and listened. He had a lot to learn about the Indy cars and he needed to approach the series with his head. Rossi had the great fortune to have Bryan Herta as his strategist as he became a member of the INDYCAR community. Herta, with his behind-the-wheel experience and his acknowledged savvy, helped this fellow American explore his own capabilities and learn on the job.

Alexander Rossi’s Ascent to INDYCAR Elite
Rossi at Long Beach.

It was Herta’s strategic moves that gave Alexander Rossi his rookie victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016. True, he drove exceptionally well during the 200 laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval, but he also listened when he needed to and obeyed Herta’s orders, giving these two California-bred racers a win in the biggest race of each year. That it occurred five years to the day from Herta’s first Indy 500 victory with the late Dan Wheldon made the accomplishment even greater.

That was the highlight of Rossi’s first year and, as he learned the series and its tracks, he took 11th place in the final standings. In 2017 Rossi did even better, earning a second victory a single pole position among his three podium results and finishing seventh on the year. 2018’s second-place finish in the standings came with three wins, three poles and eight podiums.

Alexander Rossi is now considered among the best in all NTT IndyCar Series venues: street courses, road courses, short ovals and super speedways. Alexander Rossi can conquer them all. His confidence in his abilities and those of his Andretti Autosport team, now led by engineers Jeremy Milless and Brian Page, has the Californian, now 27, considered among the best in a very deep and competitive grid.

Alexander Rossi’s Ascent to INDYCAR Elite
Winning LB in 2019, Rossi gave Andretti Autosports its 200th win.

This past weekend he won INDYCAR’s race at Elkhart Lake’s Road America, the 4.014-mile, 14-corner natural road course that had bedeviled him the past three years. Rossi won by nearly 30 seconds after starting second in a 23-car field.

“It was probably one of the best race cars I’ve ever had,” Rossi said of his No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda. “To come out and be able to do what we did today is a huge testament to the whole organization.”

Rossi’s contract is up the end of the year. He is the one-man “silly season” in INDYCAR. But he’s not talking about his future plans, deciding to concentrate on what he can accomplish here and now before he lets everyone know where he’ll be driving in 2020. Rossi has stated an intent to remain with Michael Andretti’s deep team, provided the funding is there (NAPA Auto Parts is not a full-season backer). With his endurance drives for Acura Team Penske, there’s been talk of Rossi leaving his Honda team and venturing to Team Penske’s Chevrolet-powered Indy car squad.

Whatever Alexander Rossi decides to do, he’s made an indelible impact on the NTT IndyCar Series since arriving in 2016. He’s made everyone around him – including the other drivers on his team – better than they were without his skilled and talented presence. And he’s brought attention to the series, which is basking in that glow. Whatever he does, wherever he goes, Alexander Rossi is now a prominent face of the NTT IndyCar Series.

Alexander Rossi’s Ascent to INDYCAR Elite
Rossi at Indy 2018.
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About Anne Proffit 547 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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