Podcast PODCAST, SEASON 3, EPISODE 4: Alexander Rossi on taking Indy500 by storm

5 min

Enjoy our fascinating chat with a man that carved his name in the history of motorsport.

There are moments when time stands still. Moments where you find yourself on the verge of greatness. Moments that stand the test of time. The Edge is a series of conversations where extraordinary people tell intimate stories of one moment that changed everything for them. A world record, a world championship, an epiphany, a life-changing decision. They relive their moments, minute by minute. How they overcame pressure, fear, pain and pushed themselves to the limit. To The Edge. 

Our guest this time is Alexander Rossi, the man who took motorsport by storm in 2016 when he won the 100th Running of the Indiananapolis 500 as a rookie. While talking to us, he relived his iconic win, including his surprising fuel strategy, the post-race celebrations, and how that moment shaped his career. Presented by your host Teo Van Den Broeke, enjoy our fascinating chat with a man that carved his name in the history of motorsport.

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Here are a few snippets to put you on the starting line and get the adrenaline pumping. But don’t forget to subscribe to our Podcast so you can listen to the full, unfiltered episode later. The Edge is a series of conversations with extraordinary people operating at the edge of possibility. It’s about the thin line between taking part and tipping into victory; it’s about what gives us our edge and what we can do to go beyond it.

His first Indy 500

In 2016, I didn’t know any better, I just went into it and my only goal was to finish the race. [It was] my first 500-mile race and my second race on an oval track. And so I went into it probably with a lot of naivete, I was pretty relaxed compared to everyone else just because I didn’t really know the significance of the event. Now that I’m seven, going on eight, years removed from that day, it’s hard not to get enamoured with what this race means and your desire to win it.

My world was kind of blown away by everything that takes place between the hours of 9am to noon, when the race starts. We’re at this facility practising and qualifying for an entire month leading up to the 500, but [the race day] is the first time that you actually see the place full of people. And it’s the one moment in my life where I felt like I was kind of a rock star.

I’ve been fortunate enough to race in some amazing events around the world, and none of them really quite matched the level of the 500. So for me, even if I wasn’t the lucky one to win that day, I still would have walked away falling in love with the event and wanting to come back for more. 

On his surprising fuel strategy

We were a good car, but we weren’t a car that was going to win the race. Two pit stops in a row, we had trouble getting fuel in the car. And so my strategist, who was also the co-owner of the car, his name is Brian Herta, we’re just going to try and skip them [the pit stops]. And so what that meant is that for 90 laps, I had to extend my stints by pretty significant margins, and the fuel mileage that we had to hit was 30% higher than anyone had really achieved so far that month. There was no question as to whether or not we were going to run out of gas. It was just, are you going to run out in the lead or are you going to run out with a big enough lead on the last lap? We started the last lap with a 24-second lead on second place. The car ran out of fuel in turn three, so there was still a mile or something to go. And so all we could do was coast from turn three to the finish line. It was about as close as you could have cut it. No one at all expected us [to win]. And so when this car crossed the line and no one knew who I was, everyone was a little upset.

Alexander Rossi at Indy 500, 2023

New partnership & the future

You know they [McLaren] came in and kind of took small chunks out of acquiring an existing team and for 2023 now it’s 100% owned and operated by McLaren Racing, so out of essentially the McLaren F1 team. So obviously there’s a lot of resources and capabilities that come with that. And we’re very happy about what we have going so far and look forward to the future.

Advice to young drivers

It’s good to have a plan, but you have to be okay when that plan doesn’t go the way that you want. And I’m a perfect example of that. I went to Europe at 17, I was there for almost eight years. I finally achieved my goal of making my Formula One debut in 2015 and had a contract to be a full-time driver in F1 in 2016. And in the span of three weeks, that all changed. I was on a plane from London to Indiana because I got the opportunity to drive an IndyCar, as Andretti Autosport was expanding. They heard that I was essentially out of a job and, ten weeks later, we won the Indy 500. Obviously not all things in life work out that way, but so many times in my career, I thought that this certain thing didn’t happen by the time that I wanted it to happen, so now we’re screwed. And it’s not the case.

Like anything in life, you have to be able to understand that there are opportunities everywhere you look and you just have to take advantage of every single time that you get it. And as long as you enjoy that experience and you try to perform to your best level, ultimately it’ll probably work out in some way or another. So that’s the advice I’d give. You just have to keep going.