INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens

Alexander Rossi racing the best of his career

Leave a comment

TORONTO – Alexander Rossi was asked directly by NBC Sports.com, if the recent five-race streak beginning with the Indianapolis 500 on May 26 is the best stretch of his career.

“Sure, you can say that,” Rossi told NBCSports.com as he prepared Saturday for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Since he finished 22ndin the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 11, Rossi has been the central focus of the NTT IndyCar Series.

He finished second in an extremely aggressive drive in the 103rdIndianapolis 500 when he raced eventual winner Simon Pagenaud in an Indy 500 battle of the ages. He finished second the following race in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race No. 1, losing the race when Josef Newgarden had perfect timing on a pit stop, hitting his pit box, just as a crash occurred, allowing him to leap-frog to the lead as the pits had closed and Rossi had yet to make his stop.

His fifth-place finish in the second Detroit Grand Prix race was his worst finish since the INDYCAR Grand Prix. The next week at Texas Motor Speedway, Rossi was involved in another high-speed duel, this time with Newgarden, who narrowly won the race over Rossi.

In the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America on June 23, Rossi’s greatness was on full display. He started second, took the lead in Turn 1 and drove away to win by nearly 30 seconds in one of the largest margins of victory in recent memory.

Throw out Rossi’s 22ndplace finish in the INDYCAR GP, every finish would be in the top 10 including two victories, including eight top-five finishes in nine races.

That is greatness personified.

“It’s the best results, I don’t know if you can’t put it all down to me,” Rossi said. “The team, in general, has not made any mistakes. We’ve been executing our race day. That was our biggest weakness in 2018. We had pace in 2018, but come Sundays, we didn’t put our best foot forward until the second half of the year.

“That is what is different in 2019. The first half, globally, the entire No. 27 team has been doing a great job.”

Rossi’s string of second-place finishes that begin in the Indy 500, continued to the next race at Detroit and followed him to Texas left him frustrated when he arrived at Road America. By winning with such a large margin, Rossi slammed those frustrations into submission.

“We were coming up short a lot and when we had the opportunity to have a big race, we wanted to make a statement,” Rossi said. “We were able to do that.”

When the great Bobby Unser was racing, he was a hard charger who either won the race or his engine broke while he was running away from the pack. Unser used to say he may not have won the race, but everyone in attendance knew he was the fastest driver.

NBC’s Paul Tracy recalled when his father, Tony, told him, “If you don’t win the race, make sure you did something where people will talk about you afterward.”

Rossi has been discussed and talked about more this year than probably any other driver in the NTT IndyCar Series, including the drivers who beat him while he was finishing second.

“Well, that’s good for me, but maybe not for them,” Rossi said. “The reason for that is guys would win races, but we were always the one on the podium and the topic of conversation. That’s a great thing.

“I have to agree with Paul that if you are not going to win, you may as well put on a show for everybody.”

Putting on a show has been Rossi’s ability his entire racing career. He believes he is a very competitive person with a sole focus of winning.

“People always say, ‘winning isn’t everything,’ but personally, for me, it is,” Rossi told NBCSports.com. “I demand the best from the people around me, and they expect the same from me.

“That’s just who I am as a person in general.”

Rossi has gotten substantially better with each season since he left Formula One and joined the NTT IndyCar Series in 2016. He stole the spotlight by winning the 100thIndianapolis 500 as a rookie. He was dramatically better his second season in 2017 and by 2018, he was ready to challenge and contend for the championship.

He enters Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto just seven points behind points leader Newgarden in the NTT IndyCar Series championship. Rossi starts fourth and Newgarden starts fifth with Pagenaud on the pole.

“This is a track where you have to be careful you don’t overdrive it, and I’m the type of person who drives 110 percent everywhere we go,” Rossi said. “It’s a track where I will have to adapt to it and maybe bring it down a notch.

“This place has always super tricky because of the pavement changes and the bumps.”

Rossi is in the final year of his contract with Andretti Autosport and has been the center of tremendous speculation whether he will remain with that team via a new contract, or potentially move to another team.

There are many possibilities in play, but why would Rossi want to change a good thing?

“No comment,” Rossi said about his future, only to say that he will have a new deal in place “by the end of the year.”

But he did admit that he admires the fact Scott Dixon has stayed with the same team since 2003 and has won five championships and all but one of his 45 career victories during that time.

That could serve as the model for Rossi’s future, because his No. 27 NAPA team at Andretti Autosport is arguably the best in the series right now.

“I think what Scott has done in his career is unprecedented,” Rossi said. “I’ve always said continuity is a really good thing and something underrated in this sport. Having the relationships in this sport and building upon those is very good.

“We continue to get better on my team. To see what Scott has done on this team, he is the driver all of us want to emulate and beat because he is the benchmark. He is the best modern-day IndyCar driver.”

If Rossi continues to compete at such a high level and win championships and more races in his career, he may one day be part of that conversation.

IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit during lengthy time off

INDYCAR Photo
Leave a comment

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 have 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.

His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throw 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. “As we get through this transition, we have 8-10 weeks before these things get lifted.

“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.”

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

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 COVID-19 outbreak has literally sent society underground and locked in while a solution to this fatal virus is found.

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 in-between 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 pandemic 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