The title of this article is not a statement many would have anticipated this time two years ago. But Alexander Rossi from California is swiftly becoming a guy to really watch in the IndyCar series.
This statement perhaps holds true a year ago also, despite his shock victory at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, given the circumstances surrounding it. What was perhaps overlooked, however, was Rossi’s very impressive rookie month of May as a whole last year, not just his ability to conserve fuel.
That race completely changed the now-25-year old’s life. His performances in IndyCar drastically improved following that event on all types of courses, and for the first time in his career did not have to worry about funding. In 2017, he has gone even further and has regularly started to perform better than his vastly more experienced team-mates.
This is a huge step for somebody who was pretty much unknown within IndyCar’s paddock prior to 2016. Rossi had spent much of his life trying to get himself into Formula 1, and finally cracked it in 2015, while fighting for a distant second in GP2 behind Stoffel Vandoorne. Rossi ran five races with the Manor Marussia team in that year, with a view to run with the team full-time in 2016.
It wasn’t to be, as Rossi was simply outbid by former GP2 team-mate Rio Haryanto. Instead, Rossi was offered a lifeline from Michael Andretti and his well-resourced IndyCar team, sucking up Bryan Herta’s team in the process.
It was a slow start, but Rossi showed clear improvement 2016 progressed. Sixth at Iowa and fifth at the season-concluding race at Sonoma helped him to eleventh in the championship and a well-deserved Rookie of the Year title.
But it’s how Rossi adapted to IndyCar’s ways away from the track which was perhaps the most impressive. He often came across as a cold, robotic figure. But this was perhaps expected given that is what he was taught over in Europe. But he has become more laid-back in interviews and on social media as time has gone on. It’s helped to make him a popular driver in a series where there are a lot of characters.
In some ways, only having a best result of fifth to date in 2017 doesn’t appear that stellar. There’s a bit more to look at than his best results though. Phoenix aside, where he retired after damaging his suspension, Rossi is yet to retire from a race in 2017 due to his own doing. He perhaps could have won more than one race this season. He was looking good at Long Beach, before mechanical problems put him out, and a slow stop at the Indy 500 dropped him well down the order.
His month of May in general in 2017 was hugely impressive. He was the highest-placed Andretti on the grid, starting third (ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, eventual winner Takuma Sato and a certain two-time world champion), and looked strong in traffic, on his own, everywhere. There was no real fault with Rossi’s performance at Indianapolis, and he was among the star performers.
At times, Rossi has looked genuinely quicker, on all type of circuit, than 2012 series champion Hunter-Reay, Sato or Marco Andretti, which is a good sign.
But Rossi will have stiff competition if he wishes to become IndyCar’s next American star. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden has often been regarded as just that for example. Newgarden is finally getting his chance with a top team following a number of giant-killing performances with Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter’s respective (and for one season, joint) teams. Many believe that Newgarden is a driver who will be capable of many IndyCar victories and championships sooner rather than later.
Another one of Carpenter’s drivers, Spencer Pigot, is another name to look out for in the future. The 2015 Indy Lights champion only currently runs the road and street courses, in Carpenter’s car. Regardless, his skillset on the road and street courses cannot go unnoticed, even if the results do not always appear to be in the 23-year old’s favour.
Sure, we are yet to see Rossi dominate a race weekend in the sort of manner in which we saw Graham Rahal do at Detroit. But such performances are rare in IndyCar. It is a series where delivering consistent performances shows in the points table, and consistently strong performances is what has helped elevate Rossi to seventh in the championship.
Perhaps a championship challenge in 2017 is a bit of a tall order, however. Rossi currently sits 57 points behind the series leader Scott Dixon, while team-mate Sato is 11 points adrift, as we head towards the middle of the current season.
But based on his development since joining the series, it’s clear that Rossi is a guy to look out for in the future.