Alexander Rossi

AUSTIN, Texas – Alexander Rossi has been first often at Circuit of the Americas.

Rossi was one of the first drivers to sample the track when he participated in a video to accompany a magazine story after the road course was completed in 2012. A few months before his stunning win in the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016, Rossi was the first American driver to race a Formula One car at the track.

Monday, Rossi was one the first INDYCAR drivers to sample COTA, which will host the IndyCar Series in March for the first time.

“To be an American driver that is associated with COTA and to be here really from Day 1 is something cool to have as part of my history,” Rossi said during a break at Firestone’s tire test day on the 20-turn, 3.427-mile circuit. “It’s cool that INDYCAR is coming here. It’s really best that the premier racing series in North America is racing at one of North America’s premier venues.”

Circuit of The AmericasRossi and Andretti Autosport were joined by 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan and AJ Foyt Racing in the one-day tire test. Kanaan said he has attended several F1 races at the track but had never driven it until Monday.

“I came to the first Formula One race and went up on the tower (observation deck) and watched the first (practice) session,” Kanaan said. “I’ve always wanted to test here. Every year, I ask the team if we could come here to test. We finally made it.”

“Challenging” was a common phrase used by both drivers when asked to describe the track layout. Rossi said the series of fast, flowing corners that make up Turns 3 through 7 were the most high-commitment corners of a lap. Kanaan compared it to Road America with a bit of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway mixed in.

Kanaan also said he found the limit in the unique frontstretch, which runs uphill run to a blind Turn 1.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s very fun and very challenging,” Kanaan said. “The blind corners, especially going up the hill (for Turn 1), especially. When you’re watching from the outside, you think, ‘Yeah, it looks steep,’ but from inside the car, it looks steeper.

“Trying to find my way there, it was like, ‘Whoa, where’s the apex?’ After you get used to it, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a braking zone that every time you think you can go quicker, but then when you try harder, it’s too much.”

Both drivers agreed that the INDYCAR race at COTA on March 24 will be unlike any race fans in Austin have seen.

“You can expect a lot more fun and a lot more access,” Rossi said. “That’s the big thing. In Formula One, you’re watching some of the fastest race cars on the planet, but there’s a big discrepancy between first and 20th. In INDYCAR, the top 15 may be within seven- or eight-tenths of a second. That guarantees a great show, no matter what.

“And beyond that, the fans get up close to the cars and the drivers and interact on a different level and build a connection with the drivers and the teams, which is unique to INDYCAR and something we pride ourselves on.”

The COTA race will be the second of 17 on the 2019 IndyCar Series schedule. The season opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10.