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Rossi Giving American Fans Reason To Root

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 24 2015
Alexander Rossi will give this weekend's Formula One race in Austin, Texas a made in America driver.

Alexander Rossi will give this weekend’s Formula One race in Austin, Texas a made in America driver.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas – Alexander Rossi is enjoying favorite son status at Circuit of The Americas this weekend, where a red-blooded, born-in-the-USA boy will start the fourth annual U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday.

formula1logoForget that Rossi’s bio in the Official 2015 Formula One Media Kit states that he is a native of Brazil. Since when? Also forget that Rossi is driving for Manor Marussia F1, a team typically found at the tail end of the 20-car grid. A 24-year-old native of Auburn, Calif., Rossi is the first American to compete in F1 since Scott Speed’s not-so-excellent 28-race adventure with Scuderia Toro Rosso ended in 2007. So, short of threatening to punch-out team principal John Booth, Rossi’s every waking moment will go into COTA’s record book as a first.

“I think, first of all, that the reaction has been very positive, which is what we wanted to see,” Rossi said during an official FIA press conference shared with World Driving Champions Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG Petronas and Kimi Raikkonen of Scuderia Ferrari. “Of course there is pride that goes along with it, but that started in Singapore and Japan as well.”

Rossi finished 14th at Singapore on Sept. 20 in his F1 debut and placed 18th in Suzuka, Japan, on Sept. 27_ one spot ahead of teammate Will Stevens of Great Britain on both occasions.

“Obviously, to be here at home means a big deal, but at the same time we have a job to do and very clear objectives to meet,” Rossi said. “I’m looking forward to it; there are a lot of friends and family that will be coming this weekend. But I think once you get in the car and on track you appreciate the fact that there is a bigger picture.”

Given his late entry into the deep end of the F1 pool, and Marussia’s glaring performance disadvantage, Rossi’s season basically has been reduced to out-pacing his teammate.

“With the current situation with the performance difference in the cars I think it’s very clear that the objective just needs to be continuing what we’ve done in the first two,” Rossi said. “Both of those weekends there was quite a disrupted Friday for the whole team, so I think if we have a strong Friday the Sunday result can be even more positive. In terms of next year, I’m obviously quite keen to be in a fulltime seat next year, which is apparent. The position that I’m in with the team at the moment is good and we’re looking to put that all together for next year.”

Rossi is competing in five F1 events this season in the Ferrari-powered No. 53, including the Mexican and Brazilian rounds to follow. Rossi, who first tested an F1 car in 2009, served as test driver for Catherham between 2011 and 2014. Rossi competed for Racing Engineering during the recent grand prix weekend in the companion GP2 series at Sochi Autodrom in Russia, where he won the feature race. Rossi trails leader Stoffel Vandoorne by 104 points for that resume-building championship.  

Back in F1, Rossi again out-paced Stevens during Friday’s morning practice around COTA’s 3.427-mile/20-turn circuit. Rossi logged 11 laps with a best time of 2 minutes, 01.154-seconds to Stevens’ 2:01.907 after 13 laps. Nico Rosberg of Mercedes led the session at 1:53.989 after seven laps staged on a damp track with the drivers primarily using Pirelli’s intermediate tires. Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat was second-quick at 1:55.224 after six laps with teammate Daniel Ricciardo third at 1:55.592 after 10 laps.

Point-leader Hamilton, the two-time/reigning World Champion, was fifth at 1:55.653 after just four laps with runnerup Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari sixth at 1:55.710 after 10 laps. A total of 206 laps were completed, or an average of just over 10 per car.

The afternoon session, meanwhile, fell victim to one of the many thunderstorms that have engulfed Texas since Thursday. After a delay of 56 minutes, organizers canceled the session. Intermittent lightning endangered track marshals as well as prevented the required medical helicopter to take flight.

The third and final free practice is scheduled for 10 a.m. (CDT) Saturday, with knockout qualifying set for 1 p.m. Sunday’s race is scheduled for 56 laps/191.912 miles.

Teammates Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will absorb 10-place grid penalties for Sunday’s race after the management of Scuderia Ferrari opted to compete at COTA with an updated power unit.

Vettel reiterated the Scuderia willingly took the grid hit in order to introduce fresh engines into the pipeline for the remaining four races, as well as accelerate development of the 2016 power unit. Both world champions used up their allocation of four engines after an update introduced at Monza, Italy.

“The story is that this was always the plan for us to have the strongest engine available at every single point of the season,” said Vettel, a four-time World Champion. “I think our engine guys have done a massive job, so this should not be understood as a downside. If anything this is very positive.”

Interestingly, the Scuderia made the decision despite the fact that Vettel is mathematically alive for the 2015 driver’s championship. The German trails Lewis Hamilton by 66 points with a maximum of 100 remaining.

Lotus F1 Team has confirmed Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain as partner to Pastor Maldonado in 2016. Palmer replaces Romain Grosjean, who is bound for the first-year, American-based Haas F1 Team.

Palmer, the 2014 GP2 champion, has served as Lotus’ reserve driver this season, completing 10 practice sessions.  “It feels pretty unbelievable!” Palmer said. “It’s been such a long journey and I’m so glad to have been confirmed as a race driver with the team next year.

“Getting into Formula 1 has never been harder. When I won GP2 in 2014 I felt that I was ready to move up back then so it feels like it has been a long time coming. At the same time, this year has been very good. I have enjoyed working with the team and ultimately it has given me the chance to prove what I’m capable of. I’m absolutely ready for it now.”

Team principal George Lopez praised Palmer as “an intelligent and highly marketable asset” to the team.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 24 2015
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