He knew the perception when he arrived. He was aloof. He was arrogant. He was an F1 castoff killing time before his return to Europe. A quiet but cocky Californian using INDYCAR as his steppingstone, only to inevitably jump back across the pond once opportunity struck.
The perceptions. They aren’t always reality.
“I know what the perception was”, Rossi, now in his third full Verizon IndyCar Series season, recently told me on my afternoon Indianapolis radio show. “You know how people create their opinions and that’s fine. It would’ve been a foolish business and personal decision to completely abandon what myself and my family and investors had worked on for 10 years by just completely cutting cords. I was here to compete and win races, and I committed all of the time to doing that.”
The commitment paid off in his fifth career start, with perhaps the most historic debut win in open-wheel racing history.
It’s a long road from the Red Bull Formula One American driving search and Skip Barber Racing School to Victory Lane at the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. It’s a road that includes many right-hand turns. Thus, the unlikeliness that a driver once was hesitant to run ovals would take the checkered flag in the biggest oval race of them all. Even as Rossi took the swig of milk, the question loomed as clear in the background as the tones of the Gordon Pipers: Was Rossi in it for the long haul?
The commitment, you see. It wasn’t where we thought it was. The commitment of Alexander Rossi was not where we assumed. It was to be a winning race car driver. As it turns out, those wins were going to be in INDYCAR, where Rossi finds himself second in the championship, just 23 points behind Scott Dixon as the series heads to the massively popular Road America this weekend for the KOHLER Grand Prix.
Rossi has been a model of consistency, with seven top-five finishes and two poles already on his 2018 resume. His third career win capped one of the most illustrious opening trifectas in any Indy car driver’s career. The most prestigious oval on the planet (Indy in 2016), arguably North America’s most historic road course (Watkins Glen in 2017) and inarguably its most historic street course (Long Beach in April) make up Rossi’s wins to date.
They appear to be the start of so much more. Whether it be his outside line passing to carve the field at Indy, his battles with Simon Pagenaud at Texas or his mastery along Shoreline Drive in his native California, Rossi has established himself among the league’s elite. He admits his own naivete during his rookie year, but makes bones about his confidence moving forward. Moving forward, that is, in INDYCAR.
“It would take an act of God to make me consider going back (to Europe),” he said. “I committed 100 percent to the championship and Andretti Autosport.”
Midway through the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the perception is Alexander Rossi is in the mix of what could be the first of many championship battles.
This time, the perception is reality.
(Veteran broadcaster Jake Query is a member of the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network team and offers his musings regularly on IndyCar.com.)