Yesterday, the Indy 500. Tomorrow, the Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
That’s essentially Alexander Rossi’s mindset for 2017.
After being the surprise winner of the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, as well as earning both Indy 500 and IndyCar Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, Rossi is ready to make the next step — a very big step indeed.
Sure, he’d love to repeat as 500 winner, but the series championship is his No. 1 priority – and he’s ready to go for the jugular right from the opening race of the 2017 season in March in St. Petersburg, Florida.
When asked during Wednesday’s IndyCar Media Day just how important a strong start will be this season, the Andretti Herta Autosport (with Curb-Agajanian) driver quickly replied, “Very important.”
“Racing is momentum and confidence, and all of the adjectives that relate to those things,” Rossi continued. “If you are on the back foot from day one, you’re always playing catch-up.”
Rossi quickly points to Will Power as a perfect example of why a strong start is important. Power missed the 2016 season-opening race in St. Pete due to reported lingering effects of an inner ear infection following a crash the day before in practice, which was inadvertently misdiagnosed as a concussion.
Power did not earn any points after missing the race, which he feared would keep him behind the eight-ball the remainder of the season. But Power went on a strong run and was able to finish second.
Still, if Power had raced at St. Pete, he may have eventually overtaken teammate Simon Pagenaud for the championship.
“We saw it a little bit with Will last year,” Rossi said. “He obviously is more than capable of winning championships but was always playing catch-up from St. Pete.
“It’s very important to come out of the box strong. Do you have to win, no, but I mean, you need to be fighting for the win at least and show that you’re competitive.”
Now that he’s won the biggest race in the world, Rossi knows he can’t live on his laurels or what happened last year. While winning the 500 was life-changing, his performance in the other 15 races of the 2016 season was more mediocre than good.
He had just one other top-five finish (fifth in the season finale at Sonoma), a sixth-place finish at Iowa and a pair of 10th-place finishes (Indy Grand Prix, Belle Isle 1).
Then there was the bad part of the season: seven finishes of 14th or lower, one DNF (Pocono) and ended the season with an average starting position of 14.3 and an average finish of 11.8.
“So ’16 was a lot of things,” Rossi said. “Most of it was a learning experience, from not only learning a new team, new car, new tracks, but a completely new organization in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and it was a very positive experience for most of that.
“With that being said, the year aside from the month of May was pretty difficult, and we weren’t very happy with how it went in any way as a four-car effort.
“Going into 2017 we have a lot higher expectations, and we’ve made a big push this off-season to rectify a lot of the things that didn’t go well. Obviously I’m looking forward to going back to Indianapolis in May, but by the same token, I’m just as excited about all the other races because I feel like we have a pretty big point to prove, and road and street courses, which were supposed to be my strong suit coming into IndyCar, they were not, and ovals were.”