MEDLAND: Opportunities knock for Rossi

Image by Michael Levitt/LAT

MEDLAND: Opportunities knock for Rossi

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MEDLAND: Opportunities knock for Rossi

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“I’m not saying that me doing all of these things has actually really changed an American fan base for me, but that was my main motivation. I wanted to try and differentiate myself from other IndyCar drivers, and I think that at least from my side Andretti Autosport understood that, NAPA understood that, and they were like, ‘That’s awesome. That’s a good way of trying to go about branching out and introducing yourself and our sport to a different audience that might not pay attention to it.’

“For me that’s my motivation. I don’t know if for other guys it’s the same or they just want to try and win races – which is also good – but for me it started out as solely trying to build an audience base.”

That approach has led to Rossi taking on multiple different challenges, and there are plenty more that he’s open to. But however successful he is elsewhere, a return to F1 is not one of them.

“Oh yeah, uninterested in F1,” he says. “WEC? I’ve not really thought about it. I just signed a deal with Andretti, the contract extension, so the focus is IndyCar. My re-introduction to sports cars last year was awesome, and to be able to drive for Acura Team Penske is the best of the best, so you’re coming into a very good environment and it was obviously a very good experience.

Scott Dixon’s wide-ranging and consistent successes are a model Rossi is eager to emulate. Image by Phillip Abbott/LAT

“But for me, just personal goals, I look at what Scott’s (Dixon) done. I look at, in the modern day, how dominant he was able to be for so long. It’s different to when Mario did it and A.J. did it and Michael did it, because there was such a difference in equipment.

“For Scott, in the modern day, to be able to win as many races and championships and finish in the top four in points as many times as he has, is phenomenal. I don’t think I’ll necessarily ever be able to replicate that, but to try and chip away at that and to try and do something of some sort of similarity and win multiple IndyCar championships would be pretty special.”

In some ways, Dixon stepped into Alonso’s shoes at Daytona, as the five-time IndyCar champion and Ryan Briscoe jumped in where Jordan Taylor and the Spaniard had been last year, and the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing car duly made it back-to-back victories. While Rossi has to put up with the disappointment of not being in contention after an early crash, Dixon is now in Australia preparing to race in this weekend’s Bathurst 12 Hour.

“I think Scott’s the best guide for really anyone that’s racing,” Rossi says. “Just him as a person and knowing who he is, and then seeing what he’s able to do on a racetrack in seemingly anything he gets in to… Secretly I’m hoping he struggles in Bathurst next week, but I don’t think he will! He’s one of those 1% guys that’s just good in everything, so it’s hard not to look up to him and want to try and be like him in as many ways as you can.”

Rossi was no instant success at Bathurst last year, but the frustrations of the experience just make him hungrier to try again. Image by Dirk Klynsmith/LAT

Rossi wants to see Dixon struggle in the same way he didn’t want Alonso to win the Dakar: From his standpoint, it shouldn’t appear to be easy for a driver to walk into another category and succeed. Having already admitted Dakar is on his radar, the 28-year-old says his Bathurst 1000 experience last year – where he and James Hinchcliffe qualified at the back and were eventually classified two laps down in 18th – has not put him off returning.

“After the disaster that was Bathurst, I definitely want to go back!” he says. “I want to go back after I do the 12 Hour at one point. That was a track that I had no idea was such a challenge — so unique, so circuit knowledge-dependent. I went in there with a real misunderstanding of what that challenge was going to be, so I want to go back and try again and redeem myself in some ways. So that’s a high priority for me, but in a different kind of way to how we did it in 2019.”

Given his willingness to take on so many challenges and his recent IndyCar performances, this writer can’t get away from the fact that Rossi still says he’s uninterested in an F1 return. If he can impress in other categories, perhaps a call might come from a team in Europe? But it turns out there are only two names that could entice him back.

“I watch probably up to half the races,” he says. “I think Lewis (Hamilton) is the best driver that’s ever walked the planet in a lot of ways, and it’s awesome. I like watching qualifying more than I like watching the races, because you just go and watch what he does over a qualifying lap… it’s unbelievable. It’s really special.

“It’s cool to see teams branching away from the old names and giving the younger guys a chance. I think that’s awesome. I think that’s something that wasn’t really happening a lot in the years of 2011-16-ish. So the fact that’s changed a little bit is awesome.

“I still think the technology is the best in the world, so there’s a lot of really good things about it. I just don’t have any interest in going back and subjecting myself to everything else that comes with it. There’s a bigger chance of me winning the lottery, I think, than Mercedes or Ferrari getting on the phone! I’ve always said if Ferrari or Mercedes called then yes, obviously, you’ve got to do that. But I would never go back to run from eighth to 20th. That doesn’t interest me.”

 

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