Rossi on IndyCar championship: ‘I’m going to win. … That’s our only responsibility.’


Editor’s note: Starting Thursday and leading up to Sunday’s IndyCar championship-deciding Grand Prix of Sonoma, we will feature each of the four title contenders.

Today we focus on 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alex Rossi, who trails Scott Dixon by just 29 points heading into Sunday’s championship showdown.

We will wrap up things with a feature Dixon on Sunday morning before the race (live on NBCSN, 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT). We kicked things off Thursday with Joseph Newgarden and Friday with Will Power.

In a sense, Alexander Rossi can be considered as the next Scott Dixon in waiting for the IndyCar Series.

Dixon has a decade of age and tons more experience, wins and championships than Rossi, but the pair is very similar in several ways:

* Driving style: they’re both aggressive, but also calculating and intelligent. They are both outstanding at saving fuel, using push-to-pass when most optimal, and are among the drivers who get the most out of their race cars.

* Personality: They’re both very laid-back, modest and quiet. Dixon isn’t nicknamed the “Ice Man” for nothing. He never gets flustered, drives as if he’s playing chess – always thinking of his next two or three moves way ahead before he does them. It’s the same situation for Rossi. Like Dixon, Rossi is cool both on and off the racetrack. He doesn’t go looking for attention; he lets his driving do the attention getting for him.

* Fan friendly: Dixon has been a long-time fan favorite in the series, while Rossi has quickly gained a large fan base in his three seasons in the IndyCar Series.

* Coveted: There isn’t one team that wouldn’t want to have either driver behind the wheel for them. But Dixon is locked into a new multi-year agreement with Chip Ganassi Racing and Rossi likely isn’t going anywhere from Andretti Autosport anytime soon.

So, it’s not a far stretch to consider Rossi, driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport NAPA Auto Parts Honda, as, shall we say, Dixon 2.0 – or the coming of the next Ice Man in the series.

That’s why it should be exciting and an interesting study in styles as the two drivers battle it out for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship in Sunday’s season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.

Rossi has obviously learned a lot of lessons from Dixon. While the New Zealand native may not exactly have been a direct mentor to Rossi, the young American, it’s fairly obvious that Rossi has patterned much of his career-to-date after Dixon.

The stats bear that out: Both drivers have three wins this season. Both have eight podium finishes. Both are almost identical in the number of laps they’ve completed this season (Dixon 2,279, Rossi 2,281). Rossi has led 415 laps, Dixon 357. Dixon has a better start/finish average (7.9 and 4.4) to Rossi (6.3 and 5.6). Neither has had a DNF in 2018.

And most importantly coming into Sunday: Both are 1-2 in the championship battle, with Rossi 29 points behind Dixon.

“It’s a privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence as Scott Dixon, to be able to race against someone of his caliber week in and week out, hopefully get the better of him,” Rossi said.

An interesting stat that some may not be aware of is through the course of the season, Dixon has been as far back as seventh position (after both Phoenix and Alabama), but Rossi has NEVER been ranked any lower than third after all of the first 16 races this season.

Dixon has been No. 1 in the standings for the entire second half of the season – that’s the last eight races – while Rossi has been ranked second for the last four races and no lower than third since Mid-Ohio.

Now it all comes down to one race, 85 laps around the 12-turn, 2.385-mile permanent road course that will host IndyCar for the 14th and final time on Sunday.

IndyCar has decided to shift the final race of the season in 2019 from Sonoma to Laguna Seca Raceway, about 100-plus miles south. While there’s a chance IndyCar could return to Sonoma in the future, there is no indication of when – or if – that may happen.

Getting back to Rossi, he’s looking forward to what is considered his home track, even though it’s a track he does not rank among his favorite on the circuit.

Rossi finished fifth in his first IndyCar race at Sonoma in 2016 and was 21st in last year’s race there.

Rossi tested at Sonoma on Thursday along with several other teams and feels confident that he can put on a strong performance and challenge for the championship with a large contingent of family and friends that will be in attendance.

“I think we found quite a bit of performance on road courses the second half of this year, really from Road America onwards,” Rossi said. “Hopefully that carries forward to Sonoma, we had a constructive test on Thursday, maximize that time, build a fast racecar.

“It’s no secret it’s pretty hard to pass around Sonoma. We need to make sure we have a car we can qualify up front with.”

Rossi has been on an upward route since his rookie season in 2016. He shocked the world by winning that season’s Indianapolis 500, and finished the season 11th.

Last season, Rossi finished seventh, due in part to a strong second half that laid a good foundation for the kind of season he’s had this year.

“Really, from the middle of 2017, I thought we can definitely do something, making the steps forward we needed to,” Rossi said. “I think that every time you get in a car, you learn something new.

“You’re trying to be better and learn from the people around you, your teammates, other drivers. I don’t know that there’s one area in specific. I mean, I just think you get better overall. The more time you have in the series with the car, the team, on track, you see upticks in performance.

“Really, I think the big thing for us this year is just going back to a spec aero kit. It’s really leveled the playing field and taken away advantages that teams have had in the past, just given us some opportunity to show the mechanical capabilities of our car, the strength of the Honda engine, all of that.

“I think it’s a lot of factors as to why we’ve been competitive in 2018. It’s not down to one thing by any means.”

But indeed, there is just one thing that is first and foremost in Rossi’s mind on Sunday.

“You don’t change your approach,” he 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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Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)