Alexander Rossi says this year interrupted his record, COVID-19 has changed the experience
It’s been a challenging year for Alexander Rossi.
Rossi, who grew up in Nevada City, may be best known outside of Nevada County for his 2016 Indianapolis 500 win. He’s continued a remarkable racing performance — coming in second in 2018 and third in 2019 at the IndyCar Series.
Rossi’s performance in 2020 interrupted his fairly consistent record, but the racer is taking his results in stride.
“It’s been a challenging year for a lot of reasons in terms of track performance,” the 29-year-old Rossi said. “It was probably my worst year in my career.”
In 2020, Rossi finished ninth in the IndyCar series.
Rossi said the difference in his performance reflects some normal flux, and that losing comes for everyone eventually in racing.
“This isn’t a ball sport. It’s not about losing to one other team. You’re going against 25 other people,” Rossi said. “You’re going to lose a bunch more races than you win.”
Outcome aside, Rossi said the 2020 IndyCar Series was a completely different experience in an empty stadium — void of the 340,000 warm bodies usually in attendance.
“The city changes for the entire month of May,” Rossi said. “There’s so much pageantry and tradition that comes with the event.”
Rossi said more than aesthetic, the people and fans are what make the race so special to the drivers.
Rossi said the COVID-19-related restrictions not only impacted the visibility of drivers’ fan bases, but shortened the window between race announcements and the races themselves.
“We didn’t know up to the week before type of thing what races were actually gonna go ahead,” Rossi said. “When you’re operating at this level, a lot goes on with car development and it was difficult for the engineering team to know what to focus on because the calendar was always changing.”
Rossi said those windows are necessary to construct and finesse a vehicle appropriate for specific races, their duration and terrain.
Depending on the type of race, Rossi said he finds himself going between 180 and 250 mph, with his auto racing team Andretti Autosport.
“IndyCar is very unique because we have four different tracks we race,” Rossi said.
Rossi said some participating vehicles may drive as fast as 250 mph on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a short oval. On the Iowa Speedway, the average speed is 190 mph.
Rossi said the vehicle’s design changes depending on street course in Detroit or Tampa.
“The point is with each of those types of tracks is a different philosophy/car that’s needed,” Rossi said.
‘THE CAR AND THE DRIVER’
This complexity is crucial to the understanding of the sport, Rossi said, and why the sport’s benchmarks ought to reflect the team’s individual capacities and goals.
“This isn’t track and field, where it’s purely the athlete. It’s the car and the driver,” Rossi said. “There are days where the team isn’t good.”
Rossi said depending on the day and the circumstance, a technical loss may actually be a win.
“I have to remind myself and the team around me, we haven’t forgotten overnight to do this,” Rossi said. “We will put ourselves in position to win and it will swing back to you.”
Rossi said he was grateful to participate at all in the sport, given the spectrum of shutdowns in the private and public sector.
“At the beginning of the year, there was a lot uncertainty about having a season in the first place,” Rossi said. “There was a lot of fears going on with the future of sports in general.”
Rossi said he was grateful that the series promoters, tracks and sponsors held people’s best interests at heart throughout the process.
“The silver lining was the fact that we could get a 14-race season in spite of all the restrictions, which was a big challenge for the series and the teams,” Rossi said.
Rossi said he was particularly moved by the kindness of everyone amidst the public health crisis as it compared to the economic crisis faced in 2008.
“No one cared about anyone but themselves after (the Great Recession),” Rossi added, “I think because they realized A — this was going to be temporary, and B — this was not the result of any mismanagement. People realized they were in it together.”
Rossi said he does not want to over or under-play the significance of this year, but he is ready to look ahead.
“It’s been OK and I’m over it,” Rossi said. “I’m already focused on 2021.”
Rossi began racing on carts at tracks in Folsom, Reno, Davis and Dixon, he said. The Nevada City resident left Forest Lake Christian High School to pursue his racing career in Europe. Today, Rossi’s mother and grandmother remain in the area.
“They would have traveled, but with COVID it’s been a difficult year to do that,” Rossi said.
Rossi said he spends his winters in Florida and summers in Indiana, but still visits Nevada City.
“I started as an only child in Nevada City racing with my family,” Rossi said. “They’re the reason I’m able to do this today as a professional.”
Rossi will race with two other drivers in the 12 Hours of Sebring event in Florida this Saturday.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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