lexander Rossi’s Month of May began
with sports books touting his odds at
75/1, and ended with a sandwich at
Jimmy John’s. In between, he won the
100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
And he did so in a way that proved
that even after 99 previous contests,
the Speedway has not lost its ability to
surprise. Some past Indy 500s have
been won through pure speed, others
by strategy, and others still from a driver
digging themselves out of a seemingly
bottomless hole. Rossi opted for a
combination of all three.
A trouble-free run over the opening
couple of stints was thrown sharply out of
orbit by pair of slow pitstops, both the
result of a stuck fuel probe. Combined,
they cost him 25 places. But those
setbacks also forced Bryan Herta, who
was calling Rossi’s race from the pitwall,
to put his charge onto a seemingly
impossible fuel strategy; one that would
require him to go 10 miles further than
his rivals on the same fuel load.
What happened next will become part
of Indy 500 folklore, be it for the early
1970s throwback pace of Rossi’s final lap
as he willed his completely dry car to roll
across the finish line, or for the radio
transmissions that accompanied his final
laps. The phrase “clutch and coast”
entered the IndyCar vernacular, and a
guy who rarely featured in any of the
pre-race conversations joined the milk
shower honor roll.
“Whether I was going 170 miles an
hour or 230 miles an hour, that was
always going to be the longest stretch of
Turn 4 to the start/finish line that I had
ever experienced,” says Rossi.
“I drove it down to the wall so I could
cover the least amount of distance
possible, and I had the clutch in and was
looking at the yard of bricks, then my right
mirror, then bricks, mirror, bricks, mirror…
just praying that a car didn’t go by me at
230mph. I was almost pulling myself up
with the steering wheel, trying to look at
the nose of the car to see when it would
actually hit the line.”
Rossi’s shock in the immediate
aftermath of his rookie win was palpable.
Leaning on the radio transmissions again,
the first sounds to come from the No. 98
cockpit after crossing the bricks were not
an unbridled, Montoya-esque whoop, nor
a joyous string of thank-yous in the style of
Tony Kanaan. The most Rossi could muster
AFollowed, after a pause, by another one.
“I remember the last part of the day in
fragments,” Rossi says. “The whole last
eight laps through to probably five in the
afternoon is sort of in pieces. I’m sure in a
couple of weeks, or months, I’ll start to
remember it. But for now it’s a bit of a blur.”
“The really bad pitstop – which I think
was the third one – was under a safety
car,” he says. “I’m happy about that
because, emotionally, I took a dive and
I had two or three laps under the safety
car to pull myself back together.
“For most of the race I was pretty
neutral; just trying to do the best job that
I could, taking the race one lap at a time.
But when I saw myself go from eighth to
last on pit road – that definitely hurt. And,
yeah, it took me five or six minutes to
process that and get over it.”
finished in the top
four at Indy twice
as a driver (both,
Andretti). But after
victory in 2011,
he’s now a
as an entrant.
Rossi was so light on fuel
that he was told to gun the
throttle early in the final lap
and hope that momentum
would do the rest. It worked...