Why the desert racing of the Dakar Rally appeals to IndyCar star Alexander Rossi


As a two-time Baja 1000 veteran, Alexander Rossi is no stranger to off-road racing, but the Dakar Rally still would be a fresh start for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner.

“I’d 100 percent love to do Dakar at one point … but it’s so different from Baja in the sense it’s like the Tour de France,” Rossi told NBC Sports’ Parker Kilgerman (video of the interview above). “You do stages. You have rest days. Baja is a 19-hour sprint, where Dakar is over (two) weeks. It’s a very different type of race. The vehicles are more spec.

“And the other thing is the navigation is a lot harder. You’re having to navigate almost as a sailor would by the stars in some categories. You don’t have GPS systems. You have a map. A whole different challenge, but one that I would love to do one day.”

It’s understandable why the arid terrain of Saudi Arabia (the location of the Dakar Rally for the second consecutive year) would beckon for Rossi, who already has had two extraordinarily eventful forays into desert racing in Mexico.

HOW TO WATCH THE 2021 DAKAR RALLYInformation, daily schedules for NBCSN

In the 2018 Baja 1000, Rossi narrowly averted a head-on collision with a passenger SUV (which had its right-side mirror sheared off in glancing contact). He still soldiered on to a second-place finish in Class 7 (just below the trophy truck division) with a Honda Ridgeline owned by Jeff Proctor.

In the 2019 Baja 1000, Rossi rolled his Ridgeline into a ditch after misjudging a 90-degree left turn over a hill. After continuing for another 100 miles, Rossi and co-driver Proctor had to retire from the race because of damage.

Honda Photo
Alexander Rossi (right) and co-driver Jeff Proctor with the Honda Ridgeline they drove in the 2019 Baja 1000 (Honda).

With his strong ties to Honda possibly providing another opportunity, Rossi seems enamored with a return to Baja, which is “one of a kind and one of the hardest things I’ve ever participated in on four wheels.”

There are three keys to differentiating the open road from the closed-circuit ovals, road and street courses that Rossi has tamed in the NTT IndyCar Series.

The first is “there’s no set course,” Rossi said. “There are checkpoints you have to go through, but it’s up to you to find the best route for yourself and vehicle to get between Checkpoint A and B. So it’s really up to your own research that you do the weeks and months that you’re down there before the event and just your own creativity, which is pretty crazy.

“No. 2, the locals are actually involved in Baja, where they try and bobby-trap the competitors, and they’ll set up fake course markers and try to get you to get in a ditch. But those same locals are also the ones that will help you out of a difficult situation (locals helped recover his truck after the 2019 crash).

“No. 3 is even though you’re racing over unbelievable terrain. Huge boulders, big hills. You’re jumping a truck. It’s flat out the whole way. The machines are built so well, it’s a 10/10ths sprint race, even for 1,000 miles.”

Rossi, who will make his third consecutive start in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this month, is building a reputation for embracing versatility.

Besides IndyCar, sports cars and off road, he also would like to try NASCAR’s premier series — though that goal has been tempered by his 2019 debut in the Virgin Australia Supercars series. Teaming with IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, their car finished 18th of 26 in the prestigious Bathurst 1000.

“I was out of my depth,” Rossi said. “Trying to debut in a V8 Supercar at Bathurst was a hell of a task. Didn’t do a very good job. So nothing but accolades for those guys over there and what they do. I don’t think Cup would be any different. That’s a whole different world, and you’ve got to have the right preparation and right time before you’re going to jump in and do anything good.

“Conor Daly and Travis Pastrana did the truck race in Vegas and did a pretty good job, but if I were to ever do it, I want to give it the time and respect it deserves.”

IndyCar releases schedule for 2023 season

IndyCar schedule 2023
Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 schedule will feature the same number of races and tracks as this season with some minor reshuffling of dates.

IndyCar will open the 2023 season March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and will conclude Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The 107th Indy 500 will take place May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 17-race schedule will conclude with a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks.

“The NTT IndyCar Series is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

There will be 15 events on NBC: 13 races (including six of the final seven) plus Indy 500 qualifying May 20-21. There also are three races on USA Network and the Toronto race exclusively on Peacock. All races on NBC and USA also will have live simulstreams on Peacock.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 IndyCar season was the most-watched in six years and the most-watched across NBC Sports on record. The 2022 season also was the most streamed season on record.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” NBC Sports vice president of programming Mike Perman said in a release. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Notable elements on the 2023 schedule:

–There will be the same balance of seven road course races, five street courses and five ovals.

–St. Pete will be the season opener for the 13th time.

–The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle to the streets of downtown.

–The NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the IMS road course will shift to mid-August.

–The World Wide Technology Raceway event will move from Saturday to Sunday.

Start times for the 2023 events will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the 2023 IndyCar schedule:

Date Race/Track Network/Platform
Sun., March 5 Streets of St. Petersburg NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 2 Texas Motor Speedway NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 16 Streets of Long Beach NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 30 Barber Motorsports Park NBC, Peacock
Sat., May 13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) NBC, Peacock
Sun., May 28 The 107th Indianapolis 500 NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 4 Streets of Detroit NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 18 Road America USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 16 Streets of Toronto Peacock
Sat., July 22 Iowa Speedway – Race 1 NBC, Peacock
Sun., July 23 Iowa Speedway – Race 2 NBC, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 6 Streets of Nashville NBC, Peacock
Sat., Aug. 12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) USA Network, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 27 World Wide Technology Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 3 Portland International Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 10 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca NBC, Peacock

*dates and networks/platforms are subject to change