Before the morning of his May 29, 2016 victory in the 100th Indy 500, Alexander Rossi had no idea what the race meant and how much it would impact his career.
During an insightful sitdown (watch the full interview in the video above) with NBC Sports’ Marty Snider for today’s Indy 500 prerace show (1 p.m. ET, NBC), the Andretti Autosport driver went in-depth on why Indianapolis Motor Speedway was so life-altering.
“I knew nothing about tracks, nothing about ovals, nothing about the team,” Rossi said about beginning his rookie season in the NTT IndyCar Series four years ago after a stint in Formula One. “I was trying to absorb as much as I can as possible. And then Race No. 4, the Indianapolis 500 comes about, and I was forced to learn very quickly about IndyCar and what it means.
“It was amazing how it worked out. That gave us the introduction to NAPA and allowed me to develop relationships with (team owner) Michael (Andretti), Bryan (Herta) and Honda. It’s amazing looking back how that day kind of completely changed the course of my career forever. And it’s pretty remarkable.
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Before winning the iconic race with a fuel mileage gambit, Rossi said he had watched the Indy 500 but never attended the race or watched the winner’s celebration. He laughs now about photos that show him looking bemused after the victory because “it’s a perfect representation of that race and that year.”
“I didn’t have this idea of what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “It was my fourth IndyCar race, and I’d never been successful in a normal IndyCar race. I didn’t know what I was doing. It was a very strange situation. I pray I get the opportunity to do it again.”
He nearly did last year, finishing second to Simon Pagenaud in a thrilling finish that he told Snider was the most gutting and disappointing result of his career.
“I think more about last year more than 2016 about what could I have done differently,” Rossi said. “That sticks with you even more than the one I won because it’s the one that kind of got away.”
What he remembers most about the 2016 victory actually was the buildup and “the hour and a half before you get in the car. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. Understanding that elevates (IMS) above just being a racetrack.”
Rossi, who is starting ninth in today’s race, told Snider that he hopes that the 104th Indy 500 (which is being held without fans for the first time) is won by a former winner because “I’d hate for someone to feel like they missed all that comes with this event” when there is a crowd of 300,000.
— Alexander Rossi (@AlexanderRossi) August 23, 2020
“A lot of people talk about drivers who have been here 10 years trying to win it and the huge emotional relief that comes with that,” Rossi said. “But I think there’s something pretty unique for the guys who have won it. They know what that’s like and every year they don’t achieve it, it sucks even more.
“This is the one race on earth for an entire year, you’re celebrated for what you accomplished. A lot of other tracks, you win and are the hero until Monday or Tuesday, then everyone focuses on the next event. This one is literally 12 months. It seems every month you’re getting some award or honor, and it’s really special.”
Rossi also discusses his rough start to the 2020 season, why he still needs a championship and his fearlessness of passing on restarts during the interview with Snider, which you can watch during NBC’s broadcast of the 104th Indy 500 today starting at 1 p.m. ET.