IndyCar

Alexander Rossi came into his own in 2018, all that’s left is to win IndyCar crown

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There’s no question about it: the 2018 season has been a coming of age for Alexander Rossi.

We’re not talking about Rossi’s actual age (although he turns 27 on September 25th). Rather, in 2018 the Auburn, California native has come into his own as one of the most successful and consistent drivers in IndyCar.

The stats he’s amassed this season have more than doubled his overall performances in his first two seasons in IndyCar, 2016 and 2017.

Sure, he won the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 as a rookie. And while that will likely be the pinnacle for the rest of his career – unless he wins the Greatest Spectacle In Racing a few more times – Rossi has gone from curious spectacle after winning the 500 to a legitimate championship contender.

Where Rossi can usually be found in 2018: at the front of the pack.

Consider the facts:

* Rossi earned one win (Indy in ’16 and Watkins Glen in 2017) in each of his first two seasons. He’s already won three races in 2018, with one more race remaining next weekend, the season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.

* Rossi had a combined four podium finishes in his first two seasons. He’s doubled that in 2018 with eight podiums in the first 16 races.

* He led 23 laps in 2016, including 14 en route to his win at Indy, and led 99 laps in all of 2017. Thus far in 2018, he’s led 415 laps.

* He had an average start and finish of 14.3 and 11.8, respectively, in 2016. He improved to 8.6 and 9.5 last season. But this season, Rossi has really shined, with an average start of 6.3 and average finish of 5.6.

* He had 11 lead lap finishes in both 2016 and 2017, a mark he’s already eclipsed in 2018 (15). He’s also been running at the finish in every race this season, as opposed to 15 in 2016 and 16 in 2017.

If that’s not a breakout season, what is?

“It’s been great,” Rossi said during a Thursday morning IndyCar media teleconference. “It’s been a continuation of really the second half of 2017 where I think the whole Andretti Autosport organization made a pretty big step forward. It’s been a pleasure to be part of the team and watch the progress that’s been made since I came onboard in ’16.

“The fact that we’ve been able to win three races this year, run towards the front most weekends, has been kind of just the result of a lot of hard work and a lot of very good people on the team.”

Now Rossi will have the biggest race of his career on Sept. 16. Yes, even bigger than his win at Indy.

If the driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport NAPA Auto Parts Honda can overcome the 29-point deficit he has to series leader Scott Dixon, Rossi will become an IndyCar champion for the first time – and potentially the first of perhaps several more to come in the future.

Dixon will not make it easy on Rossi. The New Zealander also has great incentive: he is going for his fifth IndyCar championship at Sonoma.

In fact, Dixon has had a very Rossi-like year – or you could say Rossi has had a very Dixon-like year – with three wins, eight podiums, 357 laps led, a 7.9 starting average and the best average finish of all IndyCar drivers in the series at 4.4.

Rossi knows what’s on the line next Sunday. He also knows that he pretty much has to drive the race of his career, yes, even bigger and better than at Indianapolis.

He can’t wait for Dixon to slip up and make a mistake, because that’s a rarity. If Rossi expects that to happen, he could potentially be in for a rude awakening.

Rather, he has to make things happen on his own. And while he has to drive aggressively as he traverses Sonoma, he also has to reign in over-aggressiveness, lest that leads to an incident with another driver that could potentially end his championship hopes early.

“To actually be going into this weekend with a goal in mind of trying to win the thing outright, it’s just a privilege,” Rossi said. “It’s a privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence at Scott Dixon, to be able to race against someone of his caliber week in and week out, hopefully get the better of him.”

Rossi acknowledges that if it wasn’t for a string of fair to mediocre mid-season showings, he might actually be leading the championship battle heading to Sonoma, not Dixon. At the same time, he and his team rallied back hard and fast to be right in the middle of the title bout.

“I think there’s always points in the season which you look back on as a missed opportunity,” he said. “You talk about that, then you look forward, you try and maximize the best that you have. We had three pretty rough weekends in a row with Road America (16th, his worst finish of the season), Iowa (9th) and Toronto (8th). We knew that it was going to take something pretty special to get ourselves back in the fight.

“Going to Mid-Ohio, we just focused on just doing our job on Sunday. We always had a fast car, but we weren’t executing, sometimes making mistakes, generally up and down throughout the whole team. You can’t win a championship that way. I think everyone just really refocused and recentered going into Mid-Ohio. We’ve seen the results of that (he won there and again in the following race at Pocono, as well as was runner-up at Gateway).”

Now with one race left, you’d think Rossi would have at least one advantage over the other three championship contenders: Dixon, Will Power and Josef Newgarden.

The reason: Sonoma Raceway is only about 90 miles from Rossi’s hometown. He considers it his home track and he realizes how many family members and friends will be in attendance next Sunday, cheering him on – hopefully to the championship..

First, the good news about his family and friends being at-track next weekend.

“The past couple of years I’ve had probably a bit more than 75 guests,” Rossi said. “It’s an amazing weekend from that standpoint. Obviously with it being the last time we’re racing at Sonoma (IndyCar will race starting next year at Laguna Seca instead of Sonoma Raceway), we’ll hopefully end on a high personally, because that track has a lot of personal history for me and my family.

“Yeah, we’re just going to try to go out there, put on a show for everyone, make it a pretty awesome season finale.”

Will having so many friends and family there put more pressure or act as more of a distraction for the business at hand for Rossi?

“I don’t really think either,” he said when asked by NBC Sports. “It makes my weekend busier because there’s a lot more kind of meet-and-greets, stuff like that.

“At the end of the day, you don’t really realize, I mean, who is there or what’s there as soon as you get to pit lane, put your helmet on.

“Yeah, it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m really happy there will be friends and family and such there. Hopefully it’s a good enough weekend that we can all have a big celebration Sunday night.”

But even though Sonoma Raceway is his home track, surprisingly, Rossi doesn’t consider it one of his favorite tracks.

“It’s not in the top five,” he admitted. “I don’t know where to go from there. I mean, it’s a great track from the standpoint of it’s in a beautiful part of California, it’s very challenging to drive.

“It’s a track most affected by weather conditions because it’s on the hill. The performance and pace you have in the morning to where you are in the afternoon is drastically different. I mean, it definitely keeps you on your toes.

“No, I wouldn’t consider it a favorite of mine.”

That could change, of course, if he wins next Sunday. But one thing that won’t change, no matter what, is Rossi’s mindset and his team’s strategy going into Sonoma.

“You don’t change your approach,” Rossi said. “I mean, I’m going to win, I’m going to try to beat people, do exactly what we’ve been doing all year. That’s our only responsibility.

“If we win, we’ve done our job right. If it doesn’t happen, that doesn’t really matter. We have to go into the weekend and do all we can do to maximize ourselves, our potential.

“We have had a car in contention to win a race probably 90 percent of this year. There’s no reason to change that now.”

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IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit with new training regimen during layoff

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During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.

The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.

In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.

Times have changed, though.

Indiana is under a statewide lockdown with the exception of essential services only. Instead of going to PitFit, Dixon is working out at his home on the north side of Indianapolis.

RELATED: How is Sabres’ star Jack Eichel staying fit?

His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.

“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.

“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.

“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”


Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.

“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.

“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”

It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.

Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.

“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.

“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”

Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.

Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.

“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.

“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”

RELATED: Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph adjusting to ‘new normal’ for training

Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.

This is a time to keep his family safe.

“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.

“It’s a new thing for everybody.”


For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.

These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.

There won’t be time off inbetween races.

“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.

“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.

“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.

“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”

Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.

The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.

“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.

“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”

That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.

“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.

“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500