Alexander Rossi

SONOMA, California – For a time, he was known as the “Great American Hope” of Formula One. Now Alexander Rossi is known as the guy who did what few others have been able to do – make an immediate impact in INDYCAR.

Alexander Rossi is closing fast on the Verizon IndyCar Series championship going into Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma, the 2018 season finale. He’s 29 points behind leader Scott Dixon, meaning Rossi needs to finish multiple positions ahead of Dixon in the double-points race to claim his first championship.

It’s possible, certainly, but difficult considering the competition and the venue. Sonoma Raceway’s 12-turn, 2.385-mile circuit isn’t one of Rossi’s favorite road courses.

“It's very challenging to drive,” he said. “It's a track most affected by weather conditions because it's on the hill. The performance and pace you have in the morning to where you are in the afternoon is drastically different. It definitely keeps you on your toes, but no, I wouldn't consider it a favorite of mine.”

In his third season in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Rossi won three 2018 races – Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Pocono – and put Andretti Autosport in position to claim its first championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012.

“The potential that we might have something to celebrate Sunday night is pretty cool,” Rossi said. “We’re just going to go out there with a fast race car and see what happens. We’re just going to do our normal thing and go fight and try to win. Hopefully that will be enough.”

In his rookie season in 2016, Rossi won the Indianapolis 500. But he'd made a name for himself long before that while trying to break into F1. He competed in five races for Manor Marussia in 2015, including the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Now 26, the Californian has five Verizon IndyCar Series victories on his resume.

In terms of preparation and philosophy, though, Rossi and his team aren’t changing their tack in an effort to reel in Dixon. What’s worked in the past should work Sunday.

“You don't change your approach,” he said. “I'm going to try to beat people, do exactly what we've been doing all year. That's our only responsibility. If we win, we've done our job right. If it doesn't happen, that doesn't really matter. We have to … do all we can do to maximize ourselves, our potential.

“We have had a car in contention to win a race probably 90 percent of this year. There's no reason to change that now.”

The INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma airs live at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.