By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Alexander Rossi was trying to secure a drive in Formula One when Michael Andretti reached out in February 2016 with a possibility of a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
To that point, what might have been his crowning achievement was winning the 2008 Formula BMW World Final over future Formula One driver Esteban Gutierrez, Macau Grand Prix and European F3 champion and Masters of Formula 3 winner Daniel Juncadella, as well as fellow Indianapolis 500 competitor Gabby Chaves.
Three short months after Andretti reached out, Rossi would win perhaps the biggest race any driver could win in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
But which win was bigger for the 25-year-old Californian at the stages of his career in which he achieved them?
“I don’t think it’s possible to quantify which was bigger but I’ll explain the effect that both had,” said Rossi.
“So winning the World Final put me on the map to become a professional racing driver and allowed me the opportunities to get to that point.”
“Winning the Indianapolis 500 gave me the opportunity to stay a professional racing driver, so they both were critical but the 500 obviously has a much larger reach than a Formula BMW race in Mexico. That would’ve had a bigger impact but in terms of a career they both were pretty vital.”
Winning the Formula BMW World Final enabled Rossi to test a BMW Sauber Formula One car, at which point Rossi decided to move to Europe, moving into International Formula Master, then GP3, World Series by Renault, GP2 then even a few races in Formula One.
However, his opportunities in Formula One were few and far between. After spending a few years as a reserve driver, Rossi was set to drive for Manor at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, but after being announced as having replaced Max Chilton, the team reversed their decision.
Rossi got his opportunity for Manor Marussia in 2015 at Singapore. He drove five of the final six races that year, scoring a best result of 12th in the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, 22 seconds behind the final points scoring position.
Signing with Bryan Herta Autosport’s merged effort with Andretti Autosport and winning the Indianapolis 500 must’ve given the Californian the one thing he wanted more than anything else, job security. Right?
“A little bit more, but you’re still not guaranteed anything in this sport, right? And I mean you still have to continue improving yourself and doing a good job and winning races,” Rossi said.
“It definitely gave me the opportunity to build that framework and groundwork and to secure a ride, and obviously the contract extension was very positive and something that I haven’t had in my career and I’ll be here for a while but it doesn’t mean that you can stop pushing and stop trying to win races.”
For Rossi, having the chance to prove himself was all he ever wanted or needed. He did it in Mexico in 2008. He did it again in Indianapolis in 2016. And now he has the chance to do it more often in an environment where he’s wanted rather than an environment that didn’t appreciate him.