Good to the last drop, Rossi wraps up Sunoco Rookie of Year honors

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There was something about double-points races and using every drop of fuel for Alexander Rossi during the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver ran out of Sunoco E85R ethanol on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500 in May and the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 18.

Rossi managed to coast his No. 98 Honda across the finish line both times but with widely differing results. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he still claimed victory in the historic 100th running of the epic event. At Sonoma Raceway, Rossi was passed for fourth place by teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay before he saw the checkered flag.

While still clinching Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors with ease, the loss of one race position dropped Rossi three spots in the highly competitive overall series standings. The 24-year-old Californian slipped from eighth to 11th in the final championship ranking.

“It’s the second time it’s happened to us,” Rossi said about running out of fuel. “We were on the wrong end of it this time, we were on the right side of it for the big one.”

Rossi ran in fourth place after his last pit stop on Lap 61 of 85 at Sonoma, but like many of the front-runners, knew he had to stretch the tank to its limit to reach the finish. He ran out of fuel entering Turn 11 – the final corner on the 2.385-mile permanent road course – was overtaken by Hunter-Reay and fell to fifth.

“It’s frustrating when you work so hard all day to put yourself in a position, to lose it like that,” Rossi said. The finish was Rossi’s only other top five of 2016, in addition to the Indy 500 win.

He also locked up the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title, topping Dale Coyne Racing’s Conor Daly by 117 points. Like any driver, Rossi yearned for more.

“It was a good thing (to be rookie of the year), but it’s not great,” he said. “I’m here to win championships. We’ll have to work on it for the future and hopefully have an opportunity to fight for that in later years. At the end of the day, I think it was a positive result and I’ll take it.”

With one Verizon IndyCar Series season under his belt, Rossi said his biggest takeaway from the year was how well Andretti Autosport improved as a whole from beginning to end.

“It’s been a huge improvement for the whole team and the whole crew from the opener at St. Pete to where we are now,” he said. “It’s a completely new organization and the hat’s off to them for the steps forward.

“It was a pleasure to work with these guys and it’s easier to look back at things that could have been different, but that’s racing and I hope to show what I’m capable of in the future.”

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