Alexander Rossi’s first outings in the world of sports car racing had little in common with the bold and daring moves fans have become accustomed to from him in the IndyCar Series.
Unrewarding trips to Le Mans in 2013 in an LMP2 entry (pictured below), and once more at the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona with the DeltaWing team, gave very few indicators of what would be delivered as the newest member of the Acura Team Penske IMSA program. Partnered with sports car champion Ricky Taylor and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Acura ARX-05 DPi, the front-running IndyCar star has made quite an impression on the team and the manufacturer in a short amount of time.
Rossi’s rapid adaptation to the twin-turbo V6-powered prototype has, in Taylor’s estimation, shown how far the Californian has come in his efforts to master machines other than his Andretti Autosport open-wheel car.
“Alex and I raced together one time at Skip Barber 2006,” he told RACER. “Then, obviously, I went and followed him through his time in Europe and then in IndyCar, and I knew he was fast. I knew that he’d gained a lot of confidence and he was really coming into his own as one of the top two or three IndyCar drivers. And when I heard he was gonna drive for the team, it was really exciting. I knew he’d do a good job.”
Taylor was impressed by how well prepared his new teammate was for the endurance racing opportunity he was given by Acura and Penske. Coming on the heels of his recent first-time participation at the Baja 1000, Rossi is building a reputation as an all-rounder who can handle anything he’s asked to drive.
“Whenever you see a driver come into sports car racing from driving something else, you always think, ‘That’s going to be different,’ he noted. “As competitive as IndyCar is, and with all the other formula car drivers that come to IMSA, you expect a little bit of a learning curve when they come hop into the sports car. New buttons, new dash, new everything. It isn’t natural for some of them.
“He was shocking from every aspect,” Taylor added. “Right out of the box, he was super fast, giving feedback and developing the car in the first time that he was sitting in it. Also, just the amount of homework that he did. Probably the biggest thing is, it took Helio and I a year to learn that steering wheel, dash, and everything. He’d learned it before he even got to the track.
“That was all really exciting for me — to see how much effort he’d put in, how seriously he’s taking it. Obviously, it’s not his primary ride for the year. That’s his Andretti Honda Indy car. To see that he’s taking it seriously in the Acura ARX-05 he’ll race only a few times this year, it’s exciting for us.”
Rossi replaces fellow IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, who bowed out from the endurance driver role after struggling to fit his 6-foot-3-inch frame in the cockpit. Despite his general lack of experience in a series like IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Honda Performance Development VP Steve Eriksen says Rossi has turned out to be the perfect choice to fill Rahal’s void.
“Graham did a fantastic job,” he remarked. “You look at that last race of 2018 (Petit Le Mans) and he just was on fire, and doing a bang-up job and doing four stints or whatever. It just was incredible — but he just was not physically comfortable in the car and so he made the extraordinary decision to say, ‘This is where I’ve got to bow out, because I just don’t fit in the car.’ We were left with figuring out what to do, and we picked Rossi.
“The feedback that I’ve gotten from the team is that Alex really impressed everybody. He really fit it. It’s been such a seamless fit too, personality-wise and even setup-wise. His setup is different than what was already in place, so that also fit in well. He’s just been a great addition to the package and the team. I’m looking forward to seeing that group of drivers having a fun time at the Rolex 24.”