Alexander Rossi adds Baja 1000 class victory to his Rolex 24 triumph this year

Honda Performance Development
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Alexander Rossi bookended his 2021 season with another major victory outside the NTT IndyCar Series where he races full time — adding a class win Friday in the prestigious Baja 1000 after opening the year as part of the overall winning team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner tweeted about winning his third start in the prestigious off-road race along Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Co-driving a Honda Ridgeline each time, his first two races were eventful. In his 2018 debut, his truck nearly had a head-on collision with an SUV coming in the other direction but finished second in Class 7. In 2019, Rossi misjudged a 90-degree turn and rolled the truck into a ditch around the 95-mile mark, forcing a retirement 100 miles later because of mechanical damage.

After a one-year absence from the event because of the pandemic, Rossi returned to the Baja 1000 this year in the No. 709 Honda Ridgeline with co-drivers Jeff Proctor, Richard Glaszczak and Baja legend Steve Hengeveld. The team’s navigator was Evan Weller.

They started in the coastal city of Ensenada and went on a 1,226-mile trek south to La Paz. Proctor finished behind the wheel for a time of 23 hours, 4 minutes and 49 seconds with a winning margin of just more than three hours. It was the fourth consecutive class victory for the Honda Off-Road Ridgeline in 2021, which also won this year at the San Felipe 250, Baja 500 and Vegas to Reno.

“What a wild ride this race, this event, is,” Rossi said in a Honda release. “I can’t even begin to explain what it’s like.  It’s equally chaotic, awesome and terrifying!  To drive this truck through the desert, and the mountains, in the middle of the night, through fog that’s rolling in from the ocean – with hundreds of other cars and their dust – is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.  It’s insane, and it’s really cool.”

Rossi is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000, joining Parnelli Jones (who won the Baja 1000 in 1971-72), Ryan-Hunter Reay, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and Buddy Rice. He is the first to win the Baja 1000, Rolex 24 and Indy 500

And though he endured a winless 2021 in IndyCar (extending his victory drought to 37 races dating to June 2019 at Road America), Rossi can claim two memorable accomplishments for Honda Performance Development in other disciplines.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to take part in it three times now, with Honda and HPD,” he said. “To help give Honda this very big win is something very special to me.  Huge shout out to [team owner] Jeff Proctor for letting me drive his truck; to our navigator, Evan Weller, he’s ‘the man’; and the entire Honda Off-Road Racing Team for such a huge effort.”

In January, Rossi teamed with Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Helio Castroneves to win the Rolex 24 for Wayne Taylor Racing, which was making its debut with an Acura in the premier DPi division.

What other racing series are on Rossi’s hit list to conquer? The Auburn, California, native who also is a veteran of Formula One seems veratile and willing enough for anything as noted in this interview with NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman in January.

Rossi, who also made a start in the 2019 Bathurst 1000 Supercars race with IndyCar teammate James Hinchcliffe, said he eventually would like to try the NASCAR Cup Series and the Dakar Rally (though don’t expect to see him in the field when the desert racing classic begins early next year).

“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 said. “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.”

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”