Rossi’s back as race win­ner this time for Indy 500

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY JIM JOHN­SON

It’s be­come nor­mal these days for Alexan­der Rossi. As he stood in his pit, fans gath­ered nearby just hop­ing to catch a glimpse of the de­fend­ing In­di­anapo­lis 500 cham­pion.

Crowds fol­low­ing race win­ners isn’t an un­usual sight dur­ing May at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way. What’s un­usual is such in­ter­est in a driver mak­ing just his sec­ond trip to Indy.

There is no avoid­ing it, though. This is life as Rossi knows it now as a mem­ber of the win­ner’s club. And when he crossed the yard of bricks a year ago and be­came just the ninth rookie to win “The Great­est Spec­ta­cle in Rac­ing,” Rossi’s life changed in ways he never could have imag­ined.

“It’s an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that hap­pens for the year af­ter­ward,” Rossi said. “I had no idea that it’s as de­tailed and in­volved as it ac­tu­ally is.”

It started when the win­ner’s wreath was put around his neck and then seem­ingly non­stop ap­pear­ances from coast to coast. The Chicago Black­hawks game in March, the first pitch at Wrigley Field ear­lier this month and dozens of other re­quests and pro­mo­tional obli­ga­tions over the past 12 months.

But no­body knew who Rossi was when he came to In­di­anapo­lis in 2016 as an over­looked rookie driver for Michael An­dretti. Now ev­ery­one knows his name, and the Amer­i­can driver is back for an­other try.

“I think the main dif­fer­ences are just know­ing what ar­eas are su­per im­por­tant to ex­e­cute and to get right these weeks lead­ing up to the race,” Rossi said. “Be­fore it was just about try­ing to learn ev­ery­thing that goes into it off-track ex­pe­ri­ences as well.”

The off-track re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for Rossi are much dif­fer­ent from those of most other sec­ond-year driv­ers. Even prior to climb­ing in his car on the third day prac­tice Wed­nes­day, Rossi carved out enough time to pose for a pic­ture with a group of In­di­anapo­lis Colts rook­ies tour­ing the speed­way.

It’s the same for ev­ery Indy 500 win­ner in the mod­ern era. Ryan Hunter-Reay, a team­mate of Rossi, lived it, too, af­ter he fi­nally won it three years ago.

“This is one of the great­est, if not the great­est, race in the world,” Hunter-Reay said. “When you win it, it feels that way, and it changes your life. Then the years when you come very close to it, it hurts even more, like last year. Ev­ery­thing has to come to­gether on race day.”

Some­how it came to­gether for Rossi last May when he squeaked by with just enough fuel to edge Car­los Munoz in the 100th run­ning of the fa­mous race.

If one thing is more in­evitable than a new life af­ter win­ning at Indy, it’s the urge to do it again.

“I think ev­ery year that I come back here I want it more and more,” Hunter-Reay said. “That makes you even more fo­cused to come back and to get it done. So it’s some­thing that all of us think about all year long, ev­ery day, is com­ing back here and mak­ing a run at the Indy 500.”

Rossi likes his chances go­ing into qual­i­fy­ing this week­end and the race set for May 28. Last year’s win told him a lot.

“It gives you that de­sire to do it again be­cause you don’t re­ally want to give it up,” Rossi said. “So I’m def­i­nitely go­ing into this with the goal of try­ing to do it again. I know what I had last year, I know what I’d like to be dif­fer­ent, and I have a bet­ter gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of ev­ery­thing.”

AP PHOTO

Alexan­der Rossi signs au­to­graphs through the fence in the pit area dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion for the In­di­anapo­lis 500 IndyCar auto race at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way on Wed­nes­day in In­di­anapo­lis.

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