When Alexander Rossi looked at the Borg-Warner Trophy before May 29, his eye gravitated to the names and faces of racers he knew: Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mario Andretti.
Now, he has a new favorite spot.
Rossi’s own name and likeness were officially revealed on the trophy tonight at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, putting a bow on a remarkable six-plus months as the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion. The rookie winner – the ninth such champion in race history – drank the milk, wore the wreath, kissed the bricks, did the interviews.
But seeing himself on one of sports’ greatest trophies, that was the ultimate reward.
“This is the one thing I was looking forward to the most. This was the goal,” said Rossi, who won in dramatic, empty-fuel-fashion in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport.
For the fourth consecutive year, the champion was unveiled in a ceremony at the IMS Museum that included IMS president Doug Boles and Scott Gallett, BorgWarner vice president of marketing. For the unveiling, the base of the trophy was rotated to put the new Rossi image front-and-center, and upon seeing it Rossi joked to the crowd, “We’ll just keep it there.”
Rossi’s likeness is to the right of last year’s champion, Juan Pablo Montoya. Directly above him is 1992 champion Al Unser Jr., while to the above-left is 2003 winner Gil de Ferran and to the above-right is 2004 winner Buddy Rice.
Per tradition, Rossi’s name is included only with his winning year of 2016 and average speed for the 500 miles: 166.634 mph.
“Now I look at myself, but I look at the trophy more as a whole thing,” Rossi said. “Through this six-month process from May 29 to now, understanding more about the race and the sport and what it means – it’s more than one person, it’s everyone that’s on there that makes it what it is.”
Rossi won the race in the fashion of which legends are made. He nursed 36 laps (90 miles) out of his final 18.5-gallon tank of Sunoco E85R ethanol, literally coasting across the finish line to take the checkered flag after the tank ran dry on the last lap.
In September, Rossi traveled to North Carolina to meet with sculptor Will Behrends, getting a sneak peek at his likeness in a full-sized clay model of his head. Tonight, he saw the bas relief likeness in glorious silver for the first time.
“I feel like I cheated a little because I saw the clay one, so I knew it was going to look like. I’m glad he replicated it,” Rossi said. “I don’t even care what it looks like.
“Just that my name and face is there, forever, it’s pretty special.”
The 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil – the sixth of 17 races on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – is set for May 28. Only then will it be determined whose likeness will be the next one etched onto the Borg-Warner Trophy.