All hotos: Michael Levitt for BorgWarner

Rossi receives Baby Borg-Warner Trophy to bring Indy 500 win full circle

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The memories created from May 29, 2016, when Alexander Rossi completed one of the more heroic and unlikely performances en route to winning the 100th Indianapolis 500, were enough to last a lifetime.

But while the win itself for Rossi and car co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta brought the flurry of media activity, whirlwind number of trips and appearances in the days that followed, there still wasn’t the tangible take-home product of the trophy that comes with it.

Wednesday night as part of the Automotive News World Congress dinner event at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the winners have received their Baby Borg-Warner Trophies. The Baby Borg was first presented to Rick Mears in 1989, following his third of four Indianapolis 500 wins in 1988.

Andretti has had four different drivers deliver him a Baby Borg – Rossi joins past champions Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Dario Franchitti (2007) and Dan Wheldon (2005) – with Herta now blessed to have a second Baby Borg of his own after Wheldon’s triumph in 2011 in a similar surprise victory in a No. 98 Honda.

For Rossi, however, the Baby Borg marked the full circle culmination of the victory, with this physical appreciation now standing as a gift he’ll have for life to remind him of that most special day.

Rossi presented his Baby Borg.
Rossi presented his Baby Borg from James Verrier, President/CEO, BorgWarner.

“These two nights were the ones I was most looking forward to,” Rossi told NBC Sports. “It’s obviously the trophy aspect that makes it real.

“The first evening with my likeness unveiled, you become a part of motorsports history. Yet you leave, and go with nothing in your hand.

“So it’s nice to come here to Detroit at the Auto Show. There’s so many people and you have the presentation. Now, I can take something home and figure out where I put it in my house!”

In December, Rossi saw his likeness revealed on the Borg-Warner Trophy for the first time, at an event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

Sculptor William Behrends pretty much nailed the face as Rossi became the 103rd face on the trophy (two co-drivers and Tony Hulman are the extras beyond the 100 race winners).

January in Detroit though is where the automotive world comes together and where INDYCAR can be showcased beyond the track itself.

levitt-baby_borg_00304
From left to right: James Verrier (President/CEO, BorgWarner), Alexander Rossi, Borg-Warner Trophy, Michael Andretti, Bryan Herta

“What BorgWarner does every time is incredible; all four times have been special,” Andretti said. “It’s so cool they do it here in Detroit, the “automotive capital of the world.” It’s such a great show and a great place to stage this event. I love they keep the tradition.”

For Andretti and Herta, their trophies mark the culmination of the journey to get here. Herta’s IndyCar program was in jeopardy of failing to make the 2016 grid altogether, before the former teammates at Andretti Green Racing merged up in late February to create the Andretti-Herta Autosport entry for Rossi.

Even more special for Herta is the fact he grew up near Detroit in Warren, Michigan.

“I was born here and lived here. Michael joked you need a good reason to come back in January because of the weather,” Herta related. “But It’s an amazing effort. It’s great for INDYCAR. Great exposure back in the automotive industry, the backbone of the industry.

“Really, the whole journey has been amazing over the last 365 days to now. We’ve come such a long way in terms of having real stability with the Andretti Autosport team. It’s very exciting.”

“This one was really special. As Bryan said it started last year, in February. To win the thing with a rookie driver that’s never seen the Indy 500 before was surreal,” Andretti added.

It was apparent in December that the win meant more to Rossi as time passed, from the initial shock and saying “I have no idea how we pulled that off!” that occurred in victory lane. At the BorgWarner Dinner, his appreciation for meeting three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser, then four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon who popped in in a cameo, was obvious.

Similarly, while Wednesday night marked a surreal moment for Rossi, he expects the magnitude of having the Baby Borg – which he doesn’t yet know where he’ll place at home – to sink in down the road as well.

“I’m sure this is another thing I’ll appreciate more later, than right in the moment,” Rossi explained. “The significance will sink in more.

“It comes in different times. It takes you back, and that’s when it hits later. Then it’ll remind me of another moment. That’s an epiphany of the moment and how special it is.

“This journey, and what I’ve learned about the history is mind-blowing. I’m surprised I went so far in my career without learning more about it. BorgWarner’s involvement and their support is incredible… and I’m humbled to accept this award.”

Most of Rossi’s wins in junior formula came as part of two-race weekends, so that mean there was little time to reflect on each one. The pursuit of the next win was always next.

Rossi hailed his Formula BMW World Championships win in 2008 as meaning the most in his career prior to Indianapolis, as it spring-boarded him to Europe.

The win on open-wheel racing’s biggest stage though puts him into rarified air among the legends of all-time.

“This race isn’t comparable to anything else given its size and magnitude.” he said. There shouldn’t be anything else that relates to it. That makes it even more exponentially powerful.”

IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

Photo: IndyCar
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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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