Formula for success
MONTEREY – Without a single car in his rearview mirror, Alexander Rossi was right where he wanted to be in the season-opening Formula BMW race at Laguna Seca Saturday.
Having already turned the fastest qualifying lap ever recorded by a Formula BMW car at Laguna Seca, Rossi owned not only the new mark but also the pole position for the season’s first race. The 16-year-old Nevada City native, starting his second season in the series, sped off from the start and gradually built a 10-second lead over the entire field.
Fourteen laps down, with just three to go, the checkered flag seemed to be his for the taking.
But back in the cockpit, as the Eurointernational team learned over the radio, things weren’t going as well as they might have appeared to fans in the stands.
“On lap nine I had built almost a 10-second gap when the oil pressure became below normal,” Rossi said. “I began short-shifting and leaving some extra on corner exit in hopes to make the end of the race, but by lap 12 the motor was certainly terminal. It was another first in my career, logging my first ‘Kimi Raikkonen’ moment.
“Unfortunate since it was a new motor for the start of the weekend, but I cannot thank the whole Eurointernational crew for working all night without sleep to have my car race ready for Sunday round No. 2.”
But like Raikkenon, a Formula 1 driver who was famously plagued by engine failures early in his F1 career, Rossi raced on.
As he signed autographs for fans prior to Sunday’s second round, Rossi still was able to smile about the sudden somber turn of events in Saturday’s race. And even though he knew his new engine – which his crew worked on all night – would not be running at full capacity, he was still confident about running up front in round two. After all, he was charged with the task of getting around a track on which he had already logged thousands of laps before the series arrived there this weekend.
His experience at Laguna Seca also showed Sunday, despite facing the disadvantage of getting a new motor finely tuned. His father and team principal, Pieter Rossi, said it typically takes one of the new BMW motorcycle motors about two hours to get up to speed. But his boy and the Eurointernational crew didn’t have that kind of time on their hands before Sunday’s race.
Having qualified third earlier in the day, Rossi was almost immediately able to move up one spot on the grid when race leader Ricardo Favoretto of Brazil went off the track on the race’s first lap. But that also cleared the way for Canadian rookie Gianmarco Raimondo, who was the top beneficiary of Rossi’s engine trouble with a win in his series debut Saturday.
After taking the lead, Raimondo, 17, never trailed again.
Though he twice was reeled back in for restarts, due to yellow flags, he made clean breaks from the pack both times – which he said was critical in keeping Rossi in his rearview mirror.
“I knew I had to pull a gap, because Alexander was going to put pressure on me,” Raimondo said after the race. “I managed to get a good three second lead and I kind of managed it from there.”
As the race progressed, however, so did Rossi’s ride. By the time he had crossed the finish line, Rossi again had broken the record for Formula BMW’s fastest-turned lap at Laguna Seca with a time of 1 minute, 27.668 seconds.
The new mark, along with his second-place finish Saturday, were high notes on which to finish the weekend, which saw more than 30 folks from western Nevada County make the trip to Monterey to catch the local talent in action. Including in that group were the winners of a race-week getaway package, sponsored by The Union and area merchants. Rich and Maddie Testa reported their accommodations and VIP treatment was nothing but “first class.”
Also on hand were several of Rossi’s local sponsors, who have helped make his climb up the racing ranks possible, and Pieter and Dawn Rossi, who serve not only as his parents but also as never-resting members of Team Rossi.
“The support from my parents and sponsors is incredible,” Alexander added. “Their contributions to my career inspires me to push hard at school and on the race track.”
And though he seemed to be pleased with his strong finish Sunday, which put him back in the thick of the points race following Saturday’s “DNF,” Rossi’s smile didn’t seem to show satisfaction.
And, considering his goal is to chase down the series championship, it’s a good thing he wasn’t satisfied with second.
“There’s disappointment, of course, being the most experienced (driver) on this track and to have led 14 laps …” Rossi said. “But that’s racing. You’re going to have to deal with ups and downs. And (Sunday’s second-place finish) was one of those ups.
“I have to just keep pushing forward. There’s plenty of time to get back into the championship.”
Considering the commitment he’s made – both on and off the track – the talent he’s displayed behind the wheel and the support system he has in tow, Rossi clearly has a formula for success that will likely produce plenty of checkered flags for his taking.
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears Saturdays. Contact him via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 477-4240.
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Following a one-year hiatus, the STIHL National Championship Air Races and Show is now underway at Reno-Stead Airport.