Rossi Views His Life Like A Mid-’80s Teen Movie

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 11 2016
Alexander Rossi says he has an affinity with the John Hughes movie, The Breakfast Club.

Alexander Rossi says he has an affinity with a popular John Hughes coming of age movie.

FORT WORTH, Texas _ Whenever art imitates life for reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi, it’s often in the form of flashbacks from The Breakfast Club.

The man who said he doesn’t eat breakfast lists the 1985 coming-of-age movie as his favorite, and bugindycarit’s not because he has an ongoing thing for Molly Ringwald as Claire Standish, the school “princess.” John Hughes wrote, produced and directed the comedy/drama which follows five teen-agers _ each members of a different clique _ who spend a Saturday in detention together. Facing a strict disciplinarian, the group comes to realize they are all more than their respective stereotypes.

“People bring this up a lot,” Rossi told a group of Metroplex media during a recent promotional tour for Saturday night’s 20th annual Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.  “When I was in high school I spent a lot of time not kind of at school and removed from kind of the normal things that normal high school students do because I was out go-kart racing every chance I could.

“And so there was some times when I was struggling with, you know, what kids struggle with. So my parents (Peter and Dawn) sat me down and had me watch that movie and there was just that affinity…and I haven’t had that, I guess, personal attachment to or relate-ability, I should say, to a movie since then.”

Asked which actor he most associates with, Rossi said, “Again, there’s a little bit of everything. Someone brought it up when I said it before and they’re like, ‘You’ve got some Judd in you.’^”Judd Nelson was cast as John Bender, the school “criminal” who earned a ticket to detention for having pulled a false fire alarm. In other words, a smart-ass.

“But there’s the trend of like everyone you kind of can relate to,” Rossi said. “I wouldn’t say there’s one I identify with in the movie as a whole.”

With that intriguing background, Rossi’s decision to cease-and-desist his pursuit of California girls for a racing-inspired move to Europe at age 16 makes sense. “It wasn’t that difficult because it’s what I wanted to do,” said Rossi, who added his parents were completely onboard with the decision. “From when I very first started driving I wanted to race in Europe. So when I finally got the opportunity there was more excitement than anything else. I was waiting for the day to go race over there.”

Progressing through Europe’s demanding junior ranks, Rossi realized his dream by driving in five Formula One races in 2015 for Manor Raving. The highlight was 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.

“They were the fastest cars on earth. That was it,” said Rossi, explaining his fascination with F1. “They were just faster than anything else. That’s all I cared about.”

Unfortunately, Rossi was left ride-less when the Manor organization based in Banbury, United Kingdom, cashed the checks of rookies Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Rio Haryanto of Indonesia during the offseason for the team’s two seats.

“The reason that I wasn’t in an F1 seat this year at Manor was because of a financial situation, um, but that’s irrelevant to me at this point,” said Rossi, who opted to join Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb- Agajanian and the Verizon IndyCar Series on Feb. 23. The 16-race schedule features five ovals, including the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway and TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval.

An Indianapolis 500 rookie, Rossi shocked the world with his fuel-savvy victory in the 100th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Rossi’s win in the No. 98 Honda was the first by an American rookie driver in 88 years, dating to three-time Indy 500 champion Louis Meyer’s first victory in 1928.

Rossi also became the 10th rookie driver to win the Indy 500. And he became the fourth driver to win the Indy 500 under the Andretti Autosport banner, joining American Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Scotsman Dario Franchitti (2007) and Englishman Dan Wheldon (2005).

Rossi donned the champion’ wreath, swigged the milk and hugged-and –kissed the BorgWarner trophy in Victory Lane after only his second start on an oval, a genre that clearly is growing on him. “I was never against the idea of oval racing, it was just something that was very new to me and I didn’t know really where to begin,” said Rossi, who joined a group of his IndyCar Series peers for a pre-Indy 500 test at TMS on May 10.

“I loved it! It’s the favorite oval I’ve driven on so far,” said Rossi, who will start ninth in the 22-car field after qualifying at 216.262 mph on Friday. “So I’m very looking forward to racing here. I mean, we had a little bit of the taste of what the race is going to be like in an organized group run in practice and it was a lot of fun. So I think the race weekend is going to be pretty spectacular. I think the racing is going to be unbelievable.

“I actually had a couple of friends ask me which race to come to and I said come to Texas because (A), it’s a night race which is awesome because the cars look better and the racing looks cool and everything. And (B) because you have speeds that are very similar to Indy…they’re reduced but it’s still the second-fastest track we’re going to go and you can be two and three-wide. So for a fan it’s awesome to watch and the drivers, we love it. It’s a little bit tricky at the end of stint with the (Firestone) tires but I think the general race is going to be incredibly exciting.

“To be fast, you’re putting the car in a position where it really doesn’t want to do it. And to be honest, like qualifying, when you watch it on-board and for me…you look at it as a racing driver you see that it’s pretty manageable…but the differences is on an oval, the feedback you’re getting from the car and the sensations you’re getting from the car are very minute and very, very specific. And it’s the same thing with the behavior of the car.”

Rossi is working on a one-year contract with team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta. In addition, he has been signed by Manor Racing as its reserve driver. “I’m contracted to Manor for the entire season, so I’m not going to change that,” said Rossi, a 24-year-old native of Nevada City, Calif. “There are conflicts and I will be at every IndyCar race.

“I have no idea what’s going to come. Motorsports is a very interesting industry and it’s a very interesting kind of world. And there’s things that happen that you don’t think are going to happen and there’s things that you think are going to happen that don’t happen, so I don’t know. As I said I’m very focused on what we have to accomplish. For me, I look at the next race and I’m always looking at the next race and trying to extract the most out of myself and the people around me.”

That’s the crux of what Rossi learned in Europe, including last year in the GP2 series that is a feeder for the FIA Formula One World Championship. “Racing in Europe taught me pretty much everything, because the majority of my adult life and professional racing career was in Europe,” Rossi said. “So everything that I learned over there that I know now is because of that. The biggest thing that it taught me was just it’s an incredibly competitive environment where you spend a lot of time talking and planning about driving a race car and very little time actually driving a race car.

“That’s something as a young person you kind of need to adapt to because when you’re in go-karts all you do is drive go-karts and that’s your life and that’s everything. But then when you get to race cars and you start moving up the ladder and you start winning more the actual amount of time you spend in the car is greatly reduced.”

Quality available rides with no dollar signs attached, Rossi said, is perhaps the biggest difference between open-wheel series in Europe and the USA.

“At least at Andretti Autosport we have more cars. So it’s not…there’s not a huge difference,” Rossi said. “I mean, IndyCar is the pinnacle of motorsports in America and Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsports in Europe. So, the level of professionalism that exists among the teams, the drivers and the championships is very, very similar. There’s higher budgets in Formula One, obviously, so that’s a little bit different but other than that, I would say the competitiveness in IndyCar is (comparable).”

Rossi exited the second Chevrolet Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle Park last Sunday a surprising fifth in the driver’s championship led by Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud. Rossi is 115 points behind the Frenchman with eight races _ half-a-season _ set to begin Saturday night with 248 laps/372 miles at TMS. NBC Sports Network’s pre-race coverage begins at 8 p.m. (EDT).

During a pre-Indy 500 interview, Rossi matter-of-factly said he expected to win the big race. Turns out he wasn’t delusional _ or a smart-ass. “I will never be satisfied unless I’m winning,” said Rossi, who added qualifying 11th was a huge disappointment. “I was pretty upset about it because I knew the potential was there and I made a mistake. So that’s just my focus. Whether or not it’s going to happen or not every time…of course not. But I go into it with the feeling that I can win and I should be able to win and I knew how strong Andretti Autosport was the entire month.

“I was very, very fortunate and I am very fortunate to be able to drive for a team of such high caliber that gives me the opportunity to win every weekend.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 11 2016
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