Rossi To Remain With IndyCar, Andretti-Herta

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 4 2016
Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi will remain an IndyCar Series driver.

Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi will remain an IndyCar Series driver.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Alexander Rossi’s decision to continue his Verizon IndyCar Series career with Andretti-Herta Autosport has ended his pursuit of a full-time Formula One career for the foreseeable future, and perhaps forever.

bugindycarThe reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Rossi confirmed on Monday his 2017 return to the team formed by the corporate merger of retired Indy car drivers/teammates Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta.

“Continuity is a very powerful thing in motorsports,” Rossi said during a national teleconference, “and having stability in the offseason is great for drivers and teams because we all have a goal that we know we can work towards. There is such a limited amount of track time that your preparation off-track is key to your success. So I feel very fortunate and relieved that we were able to get a deal done so quickly after the season-finale in Sonoma (Calif.)”

Rossi will return as driver of the No. 98 Honda, which spent most of the 16-race season without a primary sponsor. Rossi said the search for a full-time financial backer is “a constant process and evolution, and something we’re working on very hard every day. Hopefully there will be something soon.”

Rossi finished 11th in the point standings after shocking the motorsports world by winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. Rossi scored his first win in the series in just his sixth start.

Rossi’s win in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway 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).

“What an incredible eight months this has been,” Rossi said, “from getting the opportunity to join the Verizon IndyCar Series in February, to winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May and now re-signing with Andretti Autosport. I am incredibly proud and grateful to be able to have the opportunity to work with a team of this caliber as we chase after more wins and continue to make our mark on this amazing championship.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us and we are already completely focused on being back at the sharp end of the grid where we belong.”

Rossi said his contract runs through the 2017 season “and there is the option for multiple years continuing off of that.”

Rossi said he spoke to “a couple different teams, for sure” about the 2017 season, with Team Penske in the rumor mill mix. However, team-owner Roger Penske added Josef Newgarden, formerly of Ed Carpenter Racing and another rising American star, to his roster last week.

“Despite our struggles, I never once didn’t enjoy working with Andretti Autosport and the people here,” Rossi said. “I think there’s a lot of very, very intelligent people here and they have a strong plan for the future. At the end of the day, it was the best option for me in terms of a sporting perspective, because I truly think that given the right amount of time and structure we can be a competitive unit.”

The Andretti-Herta collaboration was the result of a merger between Andretti Autosport and Bryan Herta Autosport in mid-February. The last American to compete in F1, Rossi joined the organization on Feb. 23 after competing in five Formula One races in 2015 for the Manor Marussia F1 team.

Rossi delivered 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.

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.

On March 9, Rossi was introduced by Manor Racing as its official reserve driver for the 2016 FIA F1 World Championship. As such, Rossi has been working with the team’s engineers and drivers to develop the Mercedes-powered MRT05. He also has been participating in marketing activities and is available for stand-by race day duty. But it’s a role that comes with no guarantee of seat time.

Well, obviously, I’m contracted to F1 through the end of 2016,” said Rossi, who turned 25 on Sept. 24. “So, yes, in terms of that I am going to Austin (for the USGP on Oct. 23) and Mexico (Oct. 30), those are the next races I’m going to, and Abu Dhabi (season-finale on Nov. 27) as well, actually. So those are the three races that I have for the end of this year. And then beyond that my focus is on IndyCar, and I won’t be continuing 2017 as any type of reserve driver.”

In an earlier interview, Rossi said his fascination with F1 was simple. “They were the fastest cars on earth. That was it,” said Rossi, who left his hometown of Nevada City, Calif., at age 16 to launch an open-wheel racing career in Europe. “They were just faster than anything else. That’s all I cared about.”

Rossi also finished as the 2015 point runnerup in GP2, the top developmental series for aspiring F1 drivers. That said, Rossi added it was not a difficult decision to park his F1 aspirations.

“This wasn’t a decision that was made recently,” Rossi said. “Kind of after the ‘Month of May,’ you know, even after the first race at St. Pete (Fla.), I really started to enjoy the championship and appreciate what the Verizon IndyCar Series has to offer and I gained a lot of respect for the championship throughout this year. And I was actually offered _ when Rio Haryanto was leaving Manor as a race driver in August _ I was offered to take his place for the rest of the year and I turned it down because I didn’t feel that that was an appropriate thing to do based on my relationship with Andretti Autosport and Honda and the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“So it’s a decision I made back then. It’s October now, so it’s not anything…I’ve already come to terms with it and focused on my career in IndyCar.”

Manor terminated Haryanto on Aug. 10 after the Indonesian failed to meet his contractual obligations, replacing him with Renault reserve driver Esteban Ocon of France. Haryanto signed at the start of the year but only had funding through the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend on July 24.

“You know, I mean, one of my huge things when I was growing up and wanting to race in Formula 1 aside from the desire to race in Europe was the fact that I wanted to represent the U.S. and be an American driver that was successful,” Rossi said. “And I think that even though the IndyCar Series is an American championship, there’s been a lot of longing for young American talent, and I think that it’s really strong at the moment. I think that there’s the obvious names that we all know that are competing in the championship right now that are representing the U.S. in a positive way.

“So for me, it was easy to kind of translate that to represent the U.S. in our series and really the entire championship and organization welcomed me with open arms from Day One, and that was very impressive to me and kind of the community of teams and drivers, you know, everyone really kind of supports each other in a way that I wasn’t used to in Europe. So that’s something that I really enjoyed this year and it was definitely something that I took into consideration over the past couple months.”

Rossi added to an impressive racing resume in 2016. In 16 IndyCar Series starts, he counted his breakthrough win at Indy among six top-10 finishes and posted 23 laps-led. Rossi has logged 225 Formula car starts, including 43 wins, 75 podiums, 36 poles and a current win percentage of 19.1 percent. Michael Andretti along with Rossi and fellow-Californian Speed, who currently competes for Andretti’s Global Rallycross team, are the last three American-born drivers to compete in Formula 1.

“Alexander showed tremendous growth this year and we are excited to welcome him back to the team,” Andretti said in a statement. “In his first IndyCar season, Alexander was able to form trusting relationships with the team’s engineers, mechanics and his teammates and that itself is a great foundation to begin 2017. We also know he is competitive and can win races. Continuity plays a big role in the success of our programs and being able to confirm that Alexander is remaining with the team is incredible.”

Rossi will return alongside 2016 teammates Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion in the No. 28 DHL Honda, and Marco Andretti, driver of the No. 27 hhgregg Honda. A fourth entry remains in the works for the Andretti stable.

“Knowing that Alexander will be returning to the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport car provides us with the stability and continuity we need to strive for even higher results,” Herta said. “Last season we were late in the game putting our deal together. This winter we are focused on the season ahead, the continuation of our successful partnership with Andretti Autosport and seeing Alexander become a consistent winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

Rossi described his rookie IndyCar season as “challenging,” given his late contract signing and total unfamiliarity with ovals. He said Andretti and Herta _ whose fuel-saving strategy at IMS was central to the Indy 500 win _ were tremendous tutors.

“Michael and Brian…I mean, they were able to talk to me from not only a team owner’s perspective but a driver’s perspective as well,” Rossi said. “For a championship that is entirely new to me, to be able to have them to rely upon was the best thing that any rookie could ever ask for. I was in a very fortunate position to have both those guys. I had the opportunity to work with them day-to-day, and to be able to have Brian on my car and on the radio, and on the timing stand was also hugely beneficial for me.

“Obviously, the ovals were the biggest thing _ the big question mark that everyone has on rookies coming into the championship _ and me, especially, considering I didn’t have any other formal junior series oval experience. So I still feel like I have a bit to learn, and my confidence goes up every time I go on an oval and get another race under my belt. But it’s still something that’s not quite second nature to me yet.

“I think that I can go into next year without the apprehension of ovals, but, still, there’s more I need to understand in order to consistently be at the front.”

With his 11th-place point finish, Rossi barely missed extending a personal streak of success. “It’s been a long time since I finished outside…well, I’ve never finished outside the top-10 in a championship before,” Rossi said. “So it’s not something I’m very happy about and it’s something that we definitely don’t want to have happen again next year. So there is a huge amount of motivation for everyone to be way more competitive than we were and be in the front.”

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship kicks off in Florida on March 12 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Rossi said his goal will be to rack up multiple wins.

We didn’t win nearly enough this year. So, yeah, I mean, that’s obviously the goal for everyone,” Rossi said. “You wake up every day with the desire to win. You don’t go to the racetrack to finish third by any means. And while the Indianapolis 500 is obviously the race that you want to win the most, I’d say, there’s still the fact that there is an entire other championship where you set out in January or October or whatever you know you’re going to do for that year with the goal of winning the championship. In order to do that, you need to put together 16 strong races.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 4 2016
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