The defending champion of the Indianapolis 500 was a rookie and the student in 2016. Now, a year later, he’s a teacher.
One of the cool angles among many for Alexander Rossi as he prepares to defend his win in last year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the 101st running is that he’ll have the opportunity to help two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in his transition to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as he’ll enter the Andretti Autosport team in the jointly entered McLaren, Honda and Andretti sixth car.
He obviously wants to beat him on track – same as the other 31 drivers including his four other teammates at Andretti Autosport in Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato and Jack Harvey – but he’s not concerned about being a teacher as part of the team’s heralded open-book atmosphere of information and data sharing.
Rossi came to Indy a year ago for what was only his second oval race but quickly absorbed every fiber of information he received from teammates Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Carlos Munoz and Townsend Bell, with Hunter-Reay and Andretti his two primary driver teachers in the process.
Rossi learned among other things how to run in traffic, save fuel and handle the draft – all of which paid dividends en route to his victory in his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for the Andretti-Herta Autosport team partnership.
And now for Rossi, he’ll have the chance to pay back Alonso for Alonso’s own welcoming of him when he arrived for his first Grand Prix start, at Singapore in 2015 with Manor.
Rossi singled out Alonso and Sebastian Vettel as the two drivers who made a point of helping his transition to a race seat for his first race start.
“It’s limited with other drivers; we don’t spend time together in F1,” Rossi told NBC Sports. “But Alonso and Sebastian came up to me at Singapore for my debut to offer their words of wisdom. He was the one guy I had more contact with than the others.”
Alonso made his first visit to the Andretti Autosport headquarters in Indianapolis on Monday, where he made his seat, met the Borg-Warner Trophy and began interacting with his Indianapolis 500 teammates away from the throng of activity on site at Barber Motorsports Park in a more intimate setting.
Rossi, for the first time, was able to impart the knowledge he’s learned at Indianapolis onto Alonso and said it’s on him and his teammates to provide the same tutelage to Alonso for his upcoming odyssey.
“I was visiting him yesterday at the shop, as we’re walking through our Indy preparations,” Rossi said. “He’s one of the best drivers in the world.
“It’s on us – Ryan and Marco mainly – to help give him the insight they gave me because they’re two of the best at that track. I was always in the best possible position as a rookie, and now he’s in the same position.”
Rossi said it’ll likely be the items away from the driving and engineering meetings that will pique Alonso’s curiosity at Indianapolis – namely, how dedicated the fans are throughout the practice days.
“F1 is very… you’re kept in a box. In some ways that’s good and others it’s not good at all,” Rossi explained.
“The big thing for him to see is how involved the fans are, especially during the month of May. That was the thing that surprised me – it’s awesome to see and it’s why it makes our sport so good to be that involved.
“It can be super frustrating. Say you’re running to take a leak, and it’s a 20-minute process. That will surprise him. He’ll be used to going into race car, pit lane, and the timing around being on track.
“But say it’s 7:30 p.m. and you’re in an engineering meeting and there’s 100 fans there still… that is amazing and incredible… and we’re still plugging away in our meeting.
“But he’s a super laid-back kind of guy.”