Alexander Rossi didn’t make the greatest impression on Formula One team bosses as he climbed the ladder to Europe’s most prestigious racing series. He made a mere five starts with the now-defunct backmarker Manor Marussia F1 Team in 2015 with a best finish of 12th in the United States Grand Prix.
Then he landed a full-time job with Andretti-Herta Autosport and won the 100th Indianapolis 500 on a fortunate fuel mileage run, but ended up 11th in the standings in 2016.
Last year, he led a total of 99 laps and finished seventh in the IndyCar Series championship. He also won at Watkins Glen International after starting from the pole and leading 32 of 60 laps.
On Sunday, his third victory in IndyCar came at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Rossi’s homecoming event, and led all but 14 of the 85 laps on the Southern California street course.
He started from the pole and held off former champion Will Power, who had the Push-to-Pass advantage in the closing laps, to make him a race winner for the third consecutive year.
If there was any doubt about Rossi’s ability to compete in a top series, it should now be history. The 26-year-old has now won on an oval, a road course and a street course in IndyCar. He sits atop the standings by 22 points over the defending champion Josef Newgarden.
“When you look at what Rossi did this weekend, man, really, really strong,” Power said. “I think he’s going to be tough to beat in the championship. He’s definitely what I’d call a stand-out of the field right now in every respect. I mean, even when we saw him at Phoenix on the oval, as well. You’ll have to beat him, I think.”
Rossi won’t let the compliments get to his head, though.
“You’re only as good as your last time on-track,” he said. “Until we hopefully are in the fight for a championship at Sonoma and we can come away with that, then everyone else is the person to beat, as well.”
Rossi had dominant cars at the Glen and Long Beach, but his performance on the ovals shouldn’t be overlooked. In last year’s Indy 500, he started on the front row and led 23 laps. A few months later, he led 44 laps at Pocono Raceway.
He’s proven that he can lead on any type of track and that’s what will make him a challenger in this year’s title.
“We’ve had a good three races, and we’ve been able to get the car in the window pretty consistently. But that’s not a guarantee for every weekend,” he said. “There’s a lot of very strong teams and strong drivers in this championship that have the capability to beat us, and I just think that the effort that’s put in back in Indianapolis at the workshop and the continual desire to be better is something that makes a difference.
“We’re a very motivated team right now. It hasn’t been the easiest kind of three, four years for Andretti Autosport, and there was a time when they were the champion. So they definitely — as a group, all want to get back to that point, and we’re trying very hard to make that happen.”