The Adventures of Alexander Rossi continue this weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance sports car race.
The 2018 NTT IndyCar Series championship runner-up for Andretti Autosport, Rossi makes his debut with Acura Team Penske as a co-driver with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and sports car standout Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class. Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion, joins two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron in Team Penske’s sister No. 6 entry for the 24-hour event that serves as the traditional kickoff to the North American motorsports season.
Rossi, who will become the 100th driver to race for Roger Penske across all series, replaced another INDYCAR driver, Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as the third driver in the No. 7 for the endurance events in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. And as with the foray he made in November at the SCORE Baja 1000, the sports car opportunity is a result of his blossoming relationship with manufacturer Honda, the engine supplier to Andretti Autosport in the NTT IndyCar Series.
“This all kind of came through Acura and HPD,” Rossi said, referring to Honda Performance Development that operates the Honda program in INDYCAR and the Acura effort in sports cars. “Obviously, my relationship, especially this winter, grew with them with doing Baja and now this.
“It’s great for me to continue down that path with really the only manufacturer that I’ve known. It’s great to build that relationship and hopefully get a lot more race wins together.”
The 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion and a five-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner in his three seasons, Rossi has limited experience in sports car racing. He drove in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2013 and followed that the next year at the Rolex 24. Rossi said the biggest adjustment to endurance racing from Indy car competition is sharing the car with co-drivers.
“I don’t know that it’s a big adjustment, it’s just a different approach because you can’t have everything that you would want out of a car, per se,” he said. “You have to prioritize areas where you all kind of agree and the rest is you have to adapt your driving style to a car that maybe is 90 percent to your liking but not 100 percent. Fortunately, Ricky, Helio and I kind of need the same thing so it’s not too big of a discrepancy one way or another. I think we’re fortunate to have that.”
The chance to work with ultra-successful Team Penske is also appealing to Rossi, though he said the experience isn’t all that different from his home team with Andretti.
“At the end of the day, it’s another race team and they’re all trying to put their best foot forward to win,” the 27-year-old Californian and former F1 driver said. “There’s a lot of effort focused on things I’m not really used to, in terms of analyzing driver change practices and how you perform as a lap time average. It’s interesting to go into a race car and your whole focus isn’t on your actual ultimate lap time or performance, it’s what your average is over 180-lap run, for example, that you’re in the car. That’s their main focus, so it’s a whole different type of data analysis and your focus is different.
“Other than that, it’s just a race team that’s trying to go out and win, and hopefully we can have some cool watches at the end of it.
“I feel pretty good about it right now. Obviously, Team Penske is a really strong organization so I think we have a good shot at having a strong result if we do our jobs.”
Rossi is one of eight drivers competing at Daytona who raced in at least one NTT IndyCar Series event last year. Others include Pagenaud, Castroneves, Rene Binder, Kyle Kaiser, Colton Herta, Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon. In addition, two drivers already slated to run INDYCAR races this year – Fernando Alonso and Ben Hanley – are racing at Daytona.
Practice and qualifying are scheduled for Thursday, with a final practice Friday. The start of the race on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course is set to air live beginning at 2 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN. Coverage continues throughout the 24 hours on a combination of NBCSN and NBCSports.com.