AUTO RACING: Alexander Rossi gears up for 2018 IndyCar season | TheUnion.com

AUTO RACING: Alexander Rossi gears up for 2018 IndyCar season

Alexander Rossi has made quite an impression during his first two years racing on the IndyCar circuit.

The Nevada City native and former Formula One driver won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 and was named IndyCar Rookie of the Year in 2016. Last year, he took the checkered flag at Watkins Glen, finished the season with top-six finishes in six of the final seven races and placed seventh in the overall points standings.

This season, the 26-year-old looks to keep the momentum going and be a serious contender for the points championship.

"Motor sports is very much a momentum game," Rossi said. "I think the second half of the (2017) season and the win at Watkins Glen definitely carried into the offseason as far as our confidence and how aggressive we think we can be. It's a new car this year so the goal posts have moved a little bit. It's tough to see exactly where we are at, and we will know more after this weekend, but I think we are in a good position."

Rossi, who will be driving the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for Andretti Autosport, is poised to ascend to the next level of IndyCar success, which to him means being at the front of the pack on a regular basis.

"We need to be in the top-eight every weekend, consistently qualifying there and be on the podium more than three or four times," he said. "If we can do that, we will be fighting for a championship."

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Rossi's first shot at a podium comes this weekend in Florida at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Practices start today and the race is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning. It will be aired on ABC.

"Preseason testing has gone pretty well and we're cautiously optimistic about where our performance is at," said Rossi. "We hope to start the season off on the right foot."

St. Petersburg is a road course, which suits Rossi, who spent most of his racing years prior to IndyCar competing on those types of tracks.

"It's what I grew up doing and more to what I think is my strength, even though some of our best results on the IndyCar circuit have come on ovals," said Rossi, who added he was warming up to oval tracks. "I've come to enjoy ovals, but up until 2016 I had never driven on an oval, so it's still pretty new to me. When I go to Phoenix next month it will still only be my ninth oval race compared to maybe my 400th road/street course race."

Of his two IndyCar victories, one came on an oval track (Indianapolis 500) and the other was on a road course (Watkins Glen).

A DIFFERENT KIND OF RACE

Rossi said he's excited to get back in the driver's seat after a long offseason that sent him on some pretty "unique" adventures.

Rossi and fellow IndyCar driver Conor Daly teamed up on the hit CBS television show "The Amazing Race." The IndyCar duo outlasted many of the other competitors and were part of the final four teams before being eliminated.

"It was such a unique experience," said Rossi. "It was all very challenging."

He added that the craziest thing he did on the show was eat scorpions.

"I will never do that again, I don't think."

Despite the endless travel, challenging tasks and unfamiliar cuisine, Rossi said he forged lasting relationships with his fellow contestants and that's what will stick with him.

"The best part of it was meeting all the people, getting to know them and develop these relationships," he said. "It was a very unique season in the sense that everyone was kind of at the top of their game in whatever they did. To be able to compete with them and get to know them, I think Conor and I made friendships for life, and that was probably the best part of it."

OFF TRACK WITH HINCH AND ROSSI

In addition to his day job as a driver, Rossi is gearing up for the debut of a new podcast he's co-hosting with fellow IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. The weekly podcast will be called "Off Track With Hinch and Rossi."

"It's really cool and it's something I'm very excited about," Rossi said. "James Hinchcliffe is a good friend of mine and we both live in Indianapolis, and we were approached with this idea of doing a podcast.

"Through our profession and our sport we are able to meet some pretty amazing people, so we thought of doing this podcast where we use our connections to meet these really interesting people in different professional fields that aren't motor sports related at all. We have quite a few exciting guests when it debuts at the end of the month."

The first installment of "Off Track With Hinch and Rossi" is set to debut March 22.

HOMETOWN SUPPORT

Rossi said he's always in awe of the support he receives from his hometown fans and encouraged them to come see him in action when IndyCar comes to Sonoma for a race in September.

"It's amazing, the fact that I can always come home and there's a huge amount of support," he said. "That's the advantage of growing up in a small community, and it's amazing to be able to see that and experience that whenever I come home to see my mom or grandma.

"And, for those who haven't made it out to a race, Sonoma is not that far away and I hope that every one that can will come out."

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.