Alexander Rossi recalls 2016 Indy 500 victory; last year’s disappointment

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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.

Alexander Rossi Indy 500
Alexander Rossi will start ninth int he 104th Indy 500 after winning in 2016 and finishing second last year (James Black/IndyCar).

“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.

“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.

Alexander Rossi Indy 500
Alexander Rossi is seeking his first victory this season in today’s 104th Indy 500 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.