DETROIT — Alexander Rossi took his familiar position behind a steering wheel and prepared to turn a lap at a track he knows so well, Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But the road ahead was the virtual world in an iRacing simulator during a visit last week to the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center.
A reminder of the Verizon Indy Car Series driver’s real world was a few yards away, where the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda he drove to victory in May’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was on display.
Visitors to INDYCAR’s exhibit at the popular auto show that runs through Sunday watched with interest as Rossi sped down the virtual track. Just as if he was in a real car, the 25-year-old Californian calmly steered through the four turns, following a sightline as if it were May.
When he finished a lap at 44.5 seconds, Rossi climbed out of the simulator.
That’s when he received the stunning news that his lap wasn’t a record. Someone else had broken the 40-second lap time, about 5 seconds quicker. Rossi’s jaw dropped.
“I was up on the deltas,” Rossi said of the settings, “so I thought it was the fastest and was surprised when told it wasn’t.”
That’s when the competitive juices kick in. Nothing compels a driver to go faster than a challenge.
Rossi wanted to be assured the settings allowed for the fastest lap possible, so this would be a truer test of his proven abilities. He’s been in racing simulators before that were closer to the real thing, although nothing compares to the real thrill of zooming down the IMS main straight at 230 mph.
“It doesn’t,” he said of simulating the real thing, “but it’s fun. It’s a good time. It gives people a glimpse of what it’s like and how quickly things come up. From that standpoint, it’s cool.
“I’ve never been in a simulator where it’s a true representation, but they get it as close as they can. This was more of a video game. Simulators are pretty good.”
The settings adjusted, Rossi pushed it.
The car hit the wall in Turn 2.
OK, one more try. Same result, crash in Turn 2.
Unamused, Rossi spun the steering wheel away and climbed out of the simulator’s padded seat. Time to return to the real world, where nobody can take away the fact that he’s an Indianapolis 500 champion.
Proof of that was also nearby, as the iconic silver Borg-Warner Trophy that bears his likeness and that of every other Indy 500 winner was also on display. Rossi looked at his likeness with approval.
"I thought I had a good hair day, I guess," Rossi said with a smile, also knowing he’ll have another chance to turn laps at the real thing when practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins May 15. Race day is May 28.
INDYCAR drivers Pagenaud, Munoz appearing at NAIAS today
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske and new AJ Foyt Racing driver Carlos Munoz will appear today at the North American International Auto Show.
The drivers will participate in a panel discussion with Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as Bud Denker, chairman of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers at noon ET on the WXYZ-TV stage at the Cobo Center Atrium. Admission to the atrium area does not require a ticket to the auto show.
The drivers will be available to sign autographs at 12:30 p.m. Pagenaud and Munoz are both past winners of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, which returns this year June 2-4 as the lone doubleheader race weekend on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.