WATKINS GLEN, New York – His destination beyond the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season now set, Alexander Rossi is ready to get back to work for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.
The 25-year-old Californian was confirmed to return to Andretti Autosport next season on Friday at Watkins Glen International, part of a multiyear agreement that also sees NAPA Auto Parts back for 10 races as a primary sponsor on Rossi’s car.
A novice of the sport when he made his debut on the streets of St. Petersburg last year with Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, Rossi in now entrenched in the series. The champion of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil hasn’t see a downside since transitioning back to North American racing after an extended stay in Europe competing in Formula One and junior formula categories.
“I think it's changed only for the positive,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda. “I can't say that there's been one negative thing. I think, as a driver, they've helped me improve on track in a huge amount. Off track as well.
“This was a very new environment for me coming into 2016, into this championship. Being taught to do things a certain way was very much part of my background. Then having the team really kind of understand that and embrace that. I think a lot of that comes from Michael (Andretti, team CEO) having had experience over in Europe, knowing what transitions are like.”
From top to bottom, Rossi said everyone at Andretti Autosport was open to helping ease the steep learning curve. It weighed into his decision to stay with the team going forward.
“The whole organization was just able to, in a constructive way, help me get better with that, help me get better on track, help me understand ovals,” he said. “There were a lot of new things in a very short period of time. There was a lot of key contributors to helping me get adjusted here and to be in a place where we could start to have success.
“They gave me an opportunity to win the Indianapolis 500, a race that is now my favorite race in the world. Now we're getting results at the other types of tracks. Everything is positive within the team.
“With that being said, their continuation with Honda, obviously NAPA's commitment, all the pieces fell together for the next couple years.”
Rossi also credited the team’s offseason additions to the engineering staff, including technical director Eric Bretzman added from Chip Ganassi Racing and engineer Jeremy Milless from Ed Carpenter Racing. Milless, previously Josef Newgarden’s engineer at ECR, is Rossi’s engineer this season.
“He's a very smart guy,” said Rossi. “He's able to adapt. Like a racing driver can adapt to a new car, he can adapt to a new car.
“You wouldn't have seen it, but, it took us probably through the month of May to really start to be on the same page, which I think is fairly normal and natural. Not because either of us were doing anything wrong, you're not on the same communication wavelength yet. Under pressure situations and crunch time, being able to kind of take the information I have and relay it in an efficient way, make decisions based on that, that's something that comes with time. I think we're at that point now.”
In the last four races, Rossi has finished no lower than sixth, including two podiums. Sitting seventh in the championship standings, 42 points behind Will Power for fifth, the opportunity to improve remains. On his way to collecting 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, Rossi capped off the season with finishes of eighth and fifth in the final two races at Watkins Glen and Sonoma Raceway.
“We have an opportunity to climb a couple more spots in the championship if we execute really well these next two weekends,” he said. “I think we have a good opportunity to do that. Our road course package is pretty strong. We're very cautiously optimistic about what we're capable of here, with double points being available in Sonoma, hopefully we can fight for the top five.
“That would be a pretty successful thing.”
INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen action resumes with a 45-minute practice at 10:30 a.m. ET today, followed by Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 3 p.m. Both sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, with a delayed NBCSN qualifying telecast airing at 7 p.m.
Live coverage of Sunday’s 60-lap race on the 3.37-mile road circuit begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.