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Jilted In F1, Rossi Drives To P1 At Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 30 2016
Alexander Rossi watched the 99th Indy 500 in a sports bar in Monaco. He watched the 100th from the cockpit of the winning car. (Photo by Walt Kuhn courtesy of INDYCAR)

Alexander Rossi watched the 99th Indy 500 in a sports bar in Monaco. He watched the 100th from the cockpit of the winning car. (Photo by Walt Kuhn courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Michael Andretti says he knew exactly what he was getting when he added Alexander Rossi to his Verizon IndyCar Series driver lineup during the winter offseason.

“He was our hot, young American prospect to be in Formula One. He finally achieved his goal last buganalysisyear, which was awesome,” Andretti said Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway _ suddenly the crossroads of Rossi’s open-wheel career. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out for him. Maybe in the end, it could work out for you.”

Andretti was seated next to Rossi, an hour or so removed from his improbable victory in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I think it worked out just fine at the end of the day,” said Rossi, groomed in Europe over the last eight years for a career in F1 only to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in his first attempt.

“I don’t know about you guys,” team co-owner Bryan Herta said, referring to the assembled media. “I’m shocked.”

Andretti, winless in 16 star-crossed Indy 500 starts, added, “I kept saying, ‘Wow!’ ”

“Like, I can’t believe this happened,” said Herta, a peer of “Mikey’s” during the heyday of the Championship Auto Racing Teams. “I don’t even know what the next question is. February 23rd, he

Alexander Rossi stunned the racing world on Sunday.

Alexander Rossi stunned the racing world on Sunday.

said, ‘I’m clueless about this.’ ”

That was the day the merger between Andretti Autosport and Bryan Herta Autosport added Rossi to its fulltime, three-driver lineup featuring Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz. On the rebound after failing to secure one of two seats with Manor Marussia F1 Team, Rossi agreed to go domestic open-wheel racing in a series featuring not only street-and-road courses but also ovals.

“He had no idea. He honestly had no idea,” Mikey said with a grin. “He was 100 percent Europe, the way he was training and everything. He never even saw an oval except for Phoenix (International Raceway) before this. Impressive. Really impressive.”

A 24-year-old native of Nevada City, Calif., Rossi has proven to be every bit impressive. Having moved to Europe at the formative age of 16 to pursue his F1 dream in lieu of California girls, Rossi comes across as very European – very measured – via his focused demeanor, his analytical remarks and passion for his craft.

In an interview during the annual pre-race Media Day, Rossi said he really did not know how to measure his progress this Month of May on IMS’ 2.5-mile oval. But he added that his 11th place qualifying spot in the 33-car grid was not a true indication of the strength of his No. 98 Honda.

“Every time I get in a race car, I want to win,” Rossi said. “I was incredibly disappointed with 11th. A lot of people were expecting me to be happy with it. There was a bit of criticism that I wasn’t happy with 11th as a rookie. Well, I’m here to win. Did I imagine it would happen? No. Did I want it happen and was I working for it to happen? Absolutely.”

And absolutely, he still is smarting from Manor Marussia’s decision to not secure his services for 2016.

That’s no secret,” said Rossi, who drove in five Formula One races in 2015 for the Manor team,

Fans in Indy welcomed California kid Alexander Rossi home from Europe. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Fans in Indy welcomed California kid Alexander Rossi home from Europe. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

delivering a career-best, route-going/56-lap, 12th-place finish in October’s rain-plagued fourth annual U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. In his third start for the underfunded Manor team, Rossi became the first American to compete at COTA and first American to drive in F1 since Scott Speed in 2007. But Rossi was left ride-less when the organization based in Banbury, United Kingdom, cashed the checks of rookies Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Rio Haryanto of Indonesia during the offseason.

“I’m ecstatic to be here,” said Rossi, who squeezed 36 laps/90 miles out of his last stop for fuel before running dry exiting Turn 4 on the 200th and final lap. “From the first race in St. Pete, I felt immediately at home in this championship. There’s been some struggling with some difficult weekends, we’ve had our struggles. It’s been a new experience for me. It’s been a new experience for the merger of Bryan Herta Autosport and Andretti Autosport. We’ve worked very hard every day to try to improve and get things better.

“Really the Indy GP (May 14 on the IMS road-course) for us was a big step forward in terms of confidence, kind of a general understanding of where we were at. To carry that forward into all the practice, qualifying, and now this, it’s phenomenal. It’s just a huge testament to the great people I have around me.

It won’t sink in for a while. I don’t want it to. I want to enjoy this moment, enjoy it with the people around me. It’s obviously a huge honor and privilege, something I’m going to carry with a great sense of responsibility.”

With similar personalities, Rossi and Herta certainly have bonded over the last three months.Bryan kept reminding me the way we were going to win this race was by hitting the fuel number,” said Rossi, who finished the 2015 FIA GP2 season as point-runnerup. “It was very difficult (Sunday) because obviously I had at the time cars in front of me that I knew I was quicker than. Throughout the whole race we were overtaking cars. It was very hard to then not do that, look big picture. I

American driver Alexander Rossi catches his breath after Sunday's victory in world's biggest race.

American driver Alexander Rossi catches his breath after Sunday’s victory in world’s biggest race.

wouldn’t have been able to do that without Bryan on the radio and offering the support and wisdom that I needed.

“What else that made the job easier was the NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda was unbelievable to drive. I could focus solely on hitting the fuel number. I didn’t have to think about balance issues or inconsistencies. It’s a testament to all the people in the background.”

Dissecting it further, Rossi said he began going into fuel conservation mode mere minutes into what has evolved into a 200-lap sprint race.

Probably Lap 5, if I’m honest,” Rossi said.”I had a bit of a conservative start. I was able to overtake cars. I was overtaking big cars. I knew if that was the case, we definitely had the opportunity to go forward. There were a couple setbacks we had, pit stops that put us back. We had to come forward again. Every time we fell back, we were able to come forward. I knew we were strong, the pace was there, we were able to pass cars, follow cars. It wasn’t much of an issue; I knew we had a car that was good enough to win. But when you see yourself on the (scoring) pylon, 29th, whatever, you’re like, ‘This isn’t great.’ I just made sure the overtakes I did were necessary and strong.”

Rossi spent last Memorial Day Weekend in Monaco, where he watched F1 refugee Juan Pablo Montoya win the Indy 500 at an American-themed sports bar. Andretti pointed out that Rossi had never seen the Speedway in person until Easter Sunday.

“He came in and was on-pace, was not intimidated from the first lap on,” Andretti said. “Really went to school, used his teammates, learned every day throughout the month. I saw that he was very confident going into the race. I’m like, ‘Hmm, who knows, we’ll see.’ He did a hell of a job. Kept his composure the whole race. Even when there were some problems, he still kept his head in the game.

“I’m not surprised, but it’s still amazing to be a rookie and to win this race. I just heard a stat that a rookie won the first race (Ray Harroun), won the 50th race (Graham Hill) and now the hundredth

Alexander Rossi is congratulated by team co-owner Michael Andretti after Sunday's win.

Alexander Rossi is congratulated by team co-owner Michael Andretti after Sunday’s win.

race. Pretty crazy.”

As part of the merger, Herta brought the No. 98 to the deal _ a number associated at Indy with 1963 winner Parnelli Jones in the J.C. Agajanian Willard Battery Watson/Offy roadster nicknamed “Ol’ Calhoun.” And the late Dan Wheldon won the 2011 Indy 500 in the No. 98 William Rast-Curb/Big Machine Dallara/Honda when J.R. Hildebrand crashed out of the lead exiting Turn 4 on the final lap.

It’s different,” said Herta, still emotional about Wheldon’s death in a crash during the season-finale on Oct. 11, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “I can’t compare it other than to say I’m so happy. I can’t overstate how hard it was for Alex to do what I was asking him to do on the radio _ to drive to a fuel number that was almost impossible, but still keep pace and keep track position. We had a few debates about it, but he kept pushing, he kept digging. He did exactly what we asked him to do.

This partnership with Michael and his group kind of came out of a set of bad circumstances. I told him on the parade lap, I said, ‘Thank you so much.’ Without him, I’d have been watching this one on TV.”

Coincidentally, Rossi said the first Indy 500 he remembered watching on TV was in 2006, the year Michael came out of a self-imposed, three-year retirement, got buff and raced against son Marco as a rookie. Marco took the white flag at the start of Lap 200 as the leader, only to see Sam Hornish Jr. of Team Penske bolt down the frontstretch and pass him a few hundred feet from the start/finish line’s Yard of Bricks. Hornish’s margin of victory of 0.0635-seconds is the second-closest in race history.

“That race still stands out in my mind,” Rossi said. “It blew me away that somebody as a rookie was about to win. That is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, for sure.”

###

INDIANAPOLIS – Results Sunday of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil  Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed, reason out (if any) and prize money earned:

1. (11) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running, $2,548,743
2. (5) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 200, Running, $788,743
3. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $574,243
4. (18) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $445,743
5. (16) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $423,243
6. (15) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $257,305
7. (1) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 200, Running, $502,993
8. (13) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $384,493
9. (19) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $371,743
10. (6) Will Power, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $390,243
11. (9) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $451,243
12. (10) Oriol Servia, Honda, 200, Running, $220,305
13. (14) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running, $354,243
14. (26) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running, $354,493
15. (22) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $346,743
16. (31) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 200, Running, $336,243
17. (33) Alex Tagliani, Honda, 200, Running, $215,805
18. (25) Pippa Mann, Honda, 199, Running, $205,305
19. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 199, Running, $341,243
20. (21) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 199, Running, $336,243
21. (4) Townsend Bell, Honda, 199, Running, $221,305
22. (27) Matt Brabham, Chevrolet, 199, Running, $202,805
23. (28) Bryan Clauson, Honda, 198, Running, $201,805
24. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 198, Running, $419,243
25. (29) Spencer Pigot, Honda, 195, Running, $200,805
26. (12) Takuma Sato, Honda, 163, Contact, $338,243
27. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 126, Running, $359,243
28. (30) Stefan Wilson, Chevrolet, 119, Electrical, $200,805
29. (24) Conor Daly, Honda, 115, Contact, $336,243
30. (32) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 100, Mechanical, $200,305
31. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 98, Mechanical, $200,305
32. (23) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 93, Contact, $203,305
33. (17) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 63, Contact $339,493

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed:  166.634
Time of Race: 3:00:02.0872
Margin of victory: 4.4975 seconds
Cautions: 6 for  46 laps
Lead changes: 54 among 13 drivers
Lap Leaders:
Hunter-Reay 1 – 2
Hinchcliffe 3
Hunter-Reay 4
Hinchcliffe 5
Hunter-Reay 6 – 8
Hinchcliffe 9
Hunter-Reay 10
Hinchcliffe 11
Hunter-Reay 12 – 13
Hinchcliffe 14 – 16
Hunter-Reay 17
Hinchcliffe 18 – 23
Hunter-Reay 24 – 27
Newgarden 28 – 29
Munoz 30
Karam 31 – 32
Hunter-Reay 33 – 41
Bell 42 – 48
Hunter-Reay 49 – 56
Bell 57
Hunter-Reay 58
Hinchcliffe 59 – 60
Hunter-Reay 61 – 66
Power 67 – 74
Hinchcliffe 75 – 77
Hunter-Reay 78 – 80
Hinchcliffe 81 – 84
Hunter-Reay 85 – 87
Hinchcliffe 88 – 91
Castroneves 92 – 96
Clauson 97 – 99
Castroneves 100 – 103
Hunter-Reay 104 – 108
Kanaan 109
Hunter-Reay 110 – 112
Bell 113 – 116
Tagliani 117 – 121
Rossi 122
Tagliani 123 – 128
Rossi 129 – 137
Castroneves 138 -148
Munoz 149 – 153
Castroneves 154 -157
Kanaan 158 – 160
Hinchcliffe 161
Kanaan 162 – 163
Hildebrand 164 – 167
Kanaan 168 – 178
Newgarden 179 – 181
Kanaan 182 – 183
Newgarden 184 – 190
Munoz 191
Newgarden 192 – 193
Munoz 194 – 196
Rossi 197 – 200

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: 1. Pagenaud 292, Dixon 235, Castroneves 224, Newgarden 211, Hinchcliffe 205, Rossi 203,  Munoz 199, Kanaan 192, Kimball 189, Montoya 187.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 30 2016
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