There are a select few drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series that are among the elite. The top-tier level drivers are expected to compete for championships and multiple race wins every season, in addition to being a favorite to win the Indianapolis 500. Alexander Rossi is one of those drivers, but his rise to the top has been far from conventional.
Rossi claimed the ultimate prize when he won the Indy 500 in his rookie year. The then 24-year old wasn’t fully able to grasp the enormity of what he had accomplished, but it sank in over time. Now, entering his sixth IndyCar season, he is poised to return to form after an odd 2020 season.
After winning seven races in his first four seasons, Rossi went winless last year and finished 9th in the final standings. He led just 83 total laps during the season and did not earn a pole. Both of those were the lowest since his 2016 rookie season. His 12.1 average finishing position was also the lowest of his career.
Heading into this year, Rossi was ready to put last season in the rearview mirror and get back to his winning ways. So far, that has not happened for the Andretti ace. After a 9th place finish in the season-opening race, Rossi got tangled up with Graham Rahal at St Petersburg, which relegated him to a 21st finishing position. A wild weekend in Texas produced a decent 8th place finish in the first race but he was taken out at the start of the second race and finished 20th.
Returning to Indianapolis could be just what the doctor ordered for Rossi’s revenge tour. He entered the GMR Grand Prix 15th in the championship standings and after starting the race from 14th, moved his way towards the front of the field. His 7th place finish was by far the best of the Andretti bunch and could be the momentum he needs as Indy 500 practice begins this week.
When it comes to winning on the big stage, Rossi is one of the best. In addition to winning the Indy 500, he has tasted victory at iconic venues such as Long Beach (twice), Watkins Glen, Road America, and Pocono. Four of his seven wins came after starting on pole, and six of them in a top-three starting position.
Starting up front is obviously key for Rossi, and qualifying is perhaps the most obvious display of just how talented the IndyCar field is as a whole. Losing a tenth of a second on a lap can make the difference between starting up front or near the back of the pack.
The one exception might be at Indianapolis, where he has shown the ability to knife through the field at an incredible rate. His ventures to the front are eerily reminiscent of the runs that Tony Kanaan has shown over the years.
Rossi needs to have his car dialed in by the time Pole Day arrives, and he will have plenty of help from his teammates. The six-car effort for Michael Andretti’s team is nothing new. The only difference between this year and last year is the subtraction of Zach Veach and the return of Stefan Wilson.
To say that Rossi excels at Indianapolis would be a massive understatement. After winning in his first start, he finished 7th, 4th, and 2nd before crashing out of last year’s race. He has led the race in all five of his starts, a streak which he hopes to continue this month.
Often times the most talented drivers in the series are also the most cerebral. That is no coincidence either. Rossi has the intellect and now the experience needed to put it all together. He knows that Indy is the only race on the schedule that awards double-points, and he knows how crucial of a role it plays in the championship.
While every driver would love to win a title, you can bet that all of them would happily trade it for a spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy. On rare occasions, a driver can have both. The last driver to win the 500 and the championship in the same year was Dario Franchitti in 2010.
Rossi would love nothing more than to have his cake and eat it too. A cold glass of milk with it would be the perfect way to cap his 2021 revenge tour.