INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Alexander Rossi: IndyCar’s version of Kyle Busch

2 Comments

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi is a fierce competitor who hates to lose. It doesn’t matter if he finishes second or 22nd, to the driver of the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series, anything short of a checkered flag is not a reason to smile or celebrate.

His non-winning demeanor is similar to that of NASCAR’s Kyle Busch, according to those who really don’t know the competitive fire that burns inside of Rossi’s character.

Rossi takes that as a compliment.

“I love Kyle Busch,” Rossi told NBCSports.com. “He’s one of my favorite drivers, so that’s fine.

“I don’t care. These guys, the 27 team, they don’t show up at the workshop at 7 a.m. to finish second. We are all here to win, and that is what we expect from ourselves, and that is what we demand from each other. We’ll celebrate at the end of the year if we come out on top.

“We are not here to finish second. If people have a problem with that, that’s too bad. If you look at the sports team, nobody on the Golden State Warriors is happy finishing second in the NBA. That’s a really silly thing for somebody to say.”

Rossi finished second once again in Saturday’s qualifications by the narrowest of margins to 19-year-old Colton Herta. Rossi’s fast time was 1:43.1693 around the 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America road course for a speed of 140.306 mph. Herta won the pole with a fast time of 1:43.1639 (140.065 mph) in another Honda to become the youngest pole winner in IndyCar history at 19 years, 83 days.

That broke the previous record of 20 years, 90 days when Graham Rahal won the pole at St. Petersburg, Florida in 2009.

Rossi has a chance to break out of his second-place blues in Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America.

Watch Road America race at noon, et on NBC

With its very long straightaways and its variety of turns, Road America has all the makings of being an “Alexander Rossi type of track.”

“We had a mechanical failure last year that was independent of anything that happened in the race,” Rossi said. “We qualified fourth and were the fastest in the first two rounds of qualifying. The pace has been there. We’ve had some misfortune here. Some self-inflicted and some bad luck. But on paper, this should really be good for this team.

“We have taken a step forward this year but so has our competition. It’s a track we’ve had circled as one to be focused on because in our three years here, we’ve never come away with a top 10 here.”

Road America is a classic road course but share some similarities to another lavish road course in North America – the beautiful Circuit of the Americas (COTA) near Austin, Texas.

“It’s a high-speed, long permanent road course,” Ross said. “The grip level is a bit different; the surface here is rougher than COTA, but the basic geometry and layout is very similar. Based on the performance at COTA, we should have similar result here.

“I’ve had experience here in Skip Barber. It’s one of the best road courses in the US. We have such a great fan turnout and a beautiful part of the world. Everyone loves coming out here.

“You can tell you are in the land of cheese when you drive up here from Indianapolis.”

Because of the length of the course combined with the 55-lap distance, the strategy options are fairly limited between making it a three-stop race.

“It’s a tough one because it is such a long lap, it’s cut and dry from a fuel standpoint,” Rossi said. “The tires make a big difference. It’s more of what tires do you use? Do you use new Reds versus used Blacks? That makes this race potentially interesting. Firestone coming up with a big discrepancy between Reds and Blacks is what will ultimately make this an interesting race.”

Rossi enters the race second in the standings, 25 points behind Josef Newgarden, who starts fourth in a Chevrolet. Rossi has just one finish outside of the top 10 in nine races this season (22ndin the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway). He has four podiums (top three), seven top-five and eight top-10s.

But it’s a streak of three second-place finishes in the last four races that has Rossi wondering if this is a great season or a lost opportunity?

“It’s frustrating,” Rossi told NBCSports.com. “It’s been for different reasons each time. I think the important thing is the pace has been there. You can be frustrated, but you don’t want to be upset with the fact of getting good results because it’s very easy for things to go poorly in a much bigger way.

“It’s not like we’re upset because we are 12thand not getting the results. We’re second and have been on the wrong side of some misfortune or bad timing but at the end of the day the car has been fast, so we have to take some comfort in that.

“Josef is a champion. He has already proven he can do it, and he’s an American. To me, there is a lot of professional pride in the fact I would like to beat him. But it’s an amazing thing for the series to have American guys at the top fighting for a championship.

“I love Scott Dixon and Will Power and Tony Kanaan, but it’s really cool to give U.S. fans American guys at the top fighting for championships.”

Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
Leave a comment

MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”