What a difference a year makes for Alexander Rossi.
A year ago – Feb. 16, 2016 – the talented American who’d spent most of his early career racing in Europe, was boarding a flight from London with an eventual destination of Indianapolis to sign with Andretti Autosport and drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Today, exactly a year removed from the career-altering day that put Rossi on the path to winning the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil last May, he was back in Indianapolis to help unveil his likeness on the ticket for the 101st running.
“The past 12 months have been pretty amazing,” Rossi said to a crowd of VIPs and media attending the unveiling at Cummins Distribution Headquarters in the heart of downtown Indy.
In keeping with tradition, this year’s ticket to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” features a photo of the previous year’s winner – in this case, Rossi. Also included in the photo this year are team members celebrating in Victory Circle, including team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta – the latter pouring a bottle of milk over Rossi’s head. Rossi’s likeness on the ticket will have a three-dimensional aspect to “make it pop,” according to Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Rossi was the surprise winner of the epic 100th Indy 500 when he nursed his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda on a single tank of E85 ethanol fuel for the final 36 laps around the hallowed 2.5-mile oval. It climaxed an amazing and miraculous adventure for the then-24-year-old, who had never set foot on IMS grounds until two months before the race.
“Last year was a lot of things; it was a whole new environment and world for me,” Rossi said. “I didn’t know a whole lot about the Verizon IndyCar Series or the Indianapolis 500. Each day was a learning experience and each day I was learning more and more why this race is so special and why this championship is what it is.
“It was a continual process of gaining an appreciation for the race and why it’s so important to not only motorsports history, but American history as well. It was a development that continued all the way through May 29 when, funny, I surprised myself by winning. That kind of ramped up the learning curve pretty quickly.”
Rossi and Boles were joined in the ticket unveiling by Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Tom Linebarger, chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc.; Mike Protogere, chairman and CEO of D-A Lubricants Inc., which produces PennGrade Motor Oil; and Dave Hanson, executive vice president at PennGrade.
Boles emphasized how well central Indiana rallied around last year’s significant milestone race, which resulted in the first announced sellout in Indianapolis 500 Mile Race history. He is optimistic of a similar build-up this year.
“This entire community really adopted the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as something that they were going to champion,” Boles said. “It was a great opportunity for this community to celebrate what makes this community so special. We’re hopeful that we can create that same kind of momentum around the 101st.”
Practice for the Indianapolis 500 begins May 15, with two days of time trials set for May 20-21. The 101st running of the spectacle takes place May 28 (11 a.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). For ticket information, visit IMS.com.