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


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 in the 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).

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).