© Getty Images

Rossi: Looking back on a US GP that was everything I wanted it to be

Leave a comment

It’s hard to know where to start when looking back at the last week and everything that has happened in New York, Austin and LA since my last blog for NBC Sports. The simplest thing to do is take you through the last week chronologically, and hopefully this will illustrate a picture describing why the last seven days have been so mega, and a culmination of 15 years of hard work.

First up was New York for a couple of days of media interviews. We arrived on Sunday night and started early Monday with an appearance on the Fox Business Network. Then it was a trip uptown to Bloomberg and then to the NBC Sports studios in Stamford, Connecticut, while in between conducting a series of phone interviews with national and international media.

Tuesday I appeared on the new Sports Illustrated TV show on NBC, so watch out for my appearance on that. It was a real pleasure to meet them and see how they’re embracing F1 at the magazine and the show and to see their excitement about my F1 role and being the only American in the sport.

New York was non-stop and then it was straight down to Austin, where we arrived Tuesday night.  Wednesday was another early start with a full day of media around Austin, including some filming with the guys at The Chive.

If you don’t know The Chive, it’s a hugely popular website based in Austin and one that hasn’t really done much with F1 before. This year that changed and we hung out for a couple of hours – I helped them teach visitors to their site how to drive a stick shift as part of a new segment that they’re running on the site. It was a blast and we had the chance to mess about with a car they’d been lent for the filming. It was a really good way of not thinking about F1 for a couple of hours and I’m sure you’ll like the end result when it’s up on their site.

Thursday, it all started coming together as we began the serious work on track. COTA had done a great job preparing for the race weekend, especially with the terrible weather conditions that were predicted, and it was awesome to see how excited everyone at the track was about the weekend ahead. This is the fourth year of the US Grand Prix at COTA and I’ve been to every one, driving in FP1 in 2012 and 2013, but this year was different. I was really touched with the warm welcome from everyone: fans, locals, media, airport and hotel workers, everyone! The list is too long to name them all but everyone was amazing, it really has been a truly special time.

Thursday was my first FIA press conference, an event that’s broadcast around the world with five other F1 drivers taking part. This was a fantastic experience and obviously an important opportunity for me to be selected on the driver panel. I look forward to the next one and fielding more questions from the world’s media.

The rest of Thursday on track was actually pretty normal. We did the track walk with the engineers, had a bunch of interviews with the F1 media pack, and then headed back into town to take part in COTA’s Fan Forum that they’d organized at their FanFest venue. The rain that had been falling, and with even more predicted for the whole weekend, hadn’t put off any fans. The place was packed and again I was humbled by the reception I received. It meant even more to me to hear that it wasn’t only the US fans who were pleased about the event, but also for those who had flown in from all around the world.

The Fan Forum events are always great. It’s a casual atmosphere and the questions are often more direct than you might get from traditional media outlets. One of the first questions asked was about 2016 and me being in F1 for full season.

This was a standard question over the whole weekend and I’m very pleased to give the same answer; things are moving along perfectly and while nothing is confirmed yet, I’m very confident I’ll be racing in F1 next year. I have a fantastic team of people that allow me to focus on my job behind the wheel and off track and who are helping put 2016 in place.

Friday… well, let’s just say it was wet, very wet! We put 11 laps on the board in FP1 but FP2 was cancelled due to the horrible weather conditions. We knew it was going to rain but in the end Austin had some of the heaviest downpours of the year in a very short space of time, continuing on Saturday when FP3 ran as scheduled, but qualifying was pushed back to Sunday.

That sort of chaos could be very distracting for everyone involved, including drivers. We prepare physically and mentally for the job you have to do in the car, and then it all changes. It’s not great for anyone, the teams, the officials and particularly the fans. It all came good on Sunday and it’s fair to say everybody was rewarded with one of the greatest races in recent memory.

With quali being pushed to Sunday morning we had a much earlier start than originally scheduled. I love driving in the wet so I was really looking forward to the session and it came good for me, out-qualifying my teammate and without any moments on track in the very tricky conditions.

With the various penalties for other drivers kicking into play, my grid position was 17th. The build-up to lights out, as you can imagine was very surreal. Hearing the Star Spangled Banner playing on the grid was a perfect start to my first home Grand Prix. It was a huge honor, privilege and responsibility to be on track representing the USA in F1.

With the wet surface the race started on we were all on intermediate tires. My start was OK but I was involved in turn one contact and had a broken front wing. I made it back to the pits for a new nose and nursing a punctured tire. This was not the start I’d planned but had nowhere to go when the impact happened. As drivers we have to adapt to what happens in these situations and I was focused on getting back to the pits to resolve the problems. Fortunately the in-lap was under caution so I did not lose much time.

From there I seriously enjoyed myself. The car felt great, and yes we’re down on power and aero compared to the cars ahead, but there is still an immense amount of torque to control and manage. With the package Manor has in place for 2016, I’m sure they’ll be making huge progress as the team does an incredible job with the budget and facilities they have access to.

I obviously couldn’t see what was unfolding at the front of the pack. I was making very sure I wasn’t in the way of anything that could affect the front runners, but after the start my race went pretty much exactly to plan.

I had a good little battle with Felipe Nasr for a few laps as the track was drying out. I overtook him under braking at one point before his better power performance pushed him back ahead. As the track dried out I had my first taste of COTA on dry tires with a 2015 spec car. I’d driven COTA in the dry in a modern F1 car with Caterham in 2012 and 2013, where both times I was limited by their FP1 runplans and on the harder prime tires. So finally I had the chance to really push on the option tires and with the fuel levels dropping, that was pretty special!

As the race unfolded I saw the attrition rate was helping push us up the field. I was just focused on my race, but at one point I did see I was in tenth and had a moment of “what if”, but I knew that we would need more cars to stop ahead to be into a point. At the end I was absolutely delighted with 12th and my plan is to build on that for Mexico.

This was my third F1 race and 12th equalled Manor’s best result of the year. The conditions had a big effect on the race and a few guys succumbed to what was going on around them, so to bring my car back and have a strong result at my home Grand Prix was a fantastic feeling.  This was a great reward for the fans who stuck it out in these conditions and for everyone who’s working so hard for my career.

After the race I caught up with the media and debriefed with the engineers, thanked everyone in the team for working so hard and then was straight on a plane to LA for some more engagements before heading to Mexico.

I’m in LA for two days and then flying down to Mexico City for the next F1 race, and I know what it’ll mean to Sergio Perez to be racing at home in F1 for the first time. After the reception I received last week and this week in California, I can tell him it’s a very special responsibility.

Looking back, my first US Formula One Grand Prix was everything I wanted it to be. I want to thank everyone who helped make it possible. Now though, Mexico is upon us and there is a lot to do! After that, it’s Brazil and then Bahrain and Abu Dhabi to cement my second place in the GP2 Championship.

After that it’s all back to F1 and finalizing the plan for 2016.

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

3 Comments

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”