Alexander Rossi will enter this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix with the title of Indianapolis 500 winner.
That’s right, Rossi — a 24-year-old rookie — pulled off arguably the biggest upset in Indy 500 history by being able to go 90 miles after his final pit stop to coast to the victory at the famed Brickyard Sunday afternoon while his faster competitors had to slip in to get a splash of fuel.
Rossi, an unknown to the majority of IndyCar fans … prior to Sunday, took the lead away from Carlos Munoz, who pitted with four laps remaining. Now, Rossi will have an interested fan base when he continues his rookie season this weekend on Belle Isle, especially since he is an American driver.
Rossi said it was the greatest day of his life and how his life will never be the same after going through the ceremonies of drinking milk in Victory Lane, then kissing the bricks following his Indy 500 win.
And, he’s right, learning that with multiple phone interviews Monday, an upcoming busy schedule in New York Tuesday prior to traveling to Detroit where he enters sixth in points with his previous best finish this year at 10th in the road course event in Indianapolis May 14 in his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” said Rossi, who came in at 66-to-1 odds to win and earned more than $2.5 million. “I don’t think I had an idea of what was to come and I’ve been kind of riding it out since 3:30 yesterday afternoon.”
And, Rossi didn’t have the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 or Belle Isle or any other stop marked on his calendar for this season. After all, he competed with the underfunded Manor Marussia Formula One team for five races last year and hoped to compete in the series again this season, a dream since he was a little boy.
Yes, Rossi pursued his dream of competing in F1, leaving America at age 16 to compete in the junior formula series Formula BMW in 2008, then moving up the ranks, including GP3 Series in 2010, World Series of Renault from 2010-2012 and GP2 Series from 2013-15, finishing second in points last year while also reaching his goal of competing in the ultimate F1 series.
After being passed over by the new Gene Haas F1 team, and still holding a spot as a reserve driver for Manor Racing, Rossi took the ride for Bryan Herta in a partnership with Andretti Autosport.
Rossi had never been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to this season. He qualified 11th, in the top third of the field, then led 14 laps around the 2 1/2 mile oval to beat Munoz, his Andretti Autosport teammate, to the flag with American Josef Newgarden finishing third.
“My focus has always been in Europe and Formula One and the Indianapolis 500 was always a race I watched and had a tremendous amount of respect for, but it wasn’t something that I had ever aspired to do because my career path wasn’t going in that direction,” Rossi said. “Obviously, when I knew that I was going to have the opportunity to run the 500 this year, especially in its 100th running, that became my priority and it became something that I very much wanted to win, but definitely growing up it wasn’t something that I thought about.”
Rossi now will be making his first trip to Belle Isle to fight it out with points leader Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya — all of Team Penske, Scott Dixon of Ganassi Racing on the bumpy 2.3-mile street course which has tight corners with concrete walls, but long straightaways for passing.
“I’m very excited to come and carry this momentum forward,” said Rossi of coming to Detroit. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard it’s bumpy. This week I’ll start to watch the video and figure it out.”
The doubleheader on Belle Isle — 70-lap races run Saturday and Sunday — will offer the same amount of points as the Indy 500 did, giving competitors an opportunity to make a major move up in the standings.
Rossi had to be at his best to win the Indy 500, working the clutch, doing everything he could to stretch that fuel with Herta, a native of metro Detroit, screaming in his ear to conserve fuel.
“It was very difficult and stressful,” said Rossi of the last few laps. “Our whole world revolves around going around the track as fast as we can so when you have someone in your ear telling you the only way you’re going to win the race is by slowing down, it goes against everything you want to do, especially when you realized it’s for the win in the Indy 500.
“It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but you respect the people you work with every day and trust them. We ran out of fuel right after we crossed the finish line, literally, so it’s as close as you’re going to get.”
So, what will Rossi’s future hold? Does he want to remain in IndyCar or make a return to F1, possibly with another lowly funded team?
After all, Castroneves was the last rookie to win the Indy 500 in 2001 at age 26 and is now a legendary figure in IndyCar as a three-time Indy 500 winner.
Sure, other rookie drivers have been close to winning the Indy 500, including Marco Andretti 10 years ago, losing the lead to Sam Hornish Jr. on the final lap, then J.R. Hildebrand five years ago when he stretched his final fuel load to lead on the final lap before crashing in Turn 4.
“I have no idea,” Rossi said. “I’m just going to enjoy this for the time being and really focus on what I have left to do this year. This (win) catapulted us back into the championship (race) and we’re not far off. We’re going to focus on that and try to pull that off.”
Detroit Grand Prix
Where: Belle Isle
TV: The two Dual in Detroit IndyCar races (Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m.) are on ABC.
Tickets and info: detroitgp.com
7:30 a.m. – Gates open
10:45 a.m. – IndyCar practice
12:15 p.m. – Super Truck Series Race 1
2:40 p.m. – Trans Am qualifying
3:30 p.m. – IndyCar Dual I qualifying
5:05 p.m. – SportsCar Championship qualifying
7:30 a.m. – Gates open
8:55 a.m. – Trans Am Race 1
10:05 a.m. – IndyCar practice
11:05 a.m. – Super Truck Series Race 2
11:20 a.m. – IndyCar drivers autograph session
12:40 p.m. – SportsCar Championship race
3:30 p.m. – IndyCar Dual I, Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans
8 a.m. – Gates open
10:45 a.m. – IndyCar Dual II qualifying
11:40 a.m. – Trans Am Race 2
2 p.m. – Super Truck Series Race 3
3:30 p.m. – IndyCar Dual II, Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans