More Good News From Silly Season
This past Friday morning, we learned that Bryan Herta has extended his association with Andretti Autosport for the 2017 season. That’s good news on several fronts. First of all, it keeps Bryan Herta involved on the ownership front. This is just my opinion, but Herta is a good guy and a good owner. I think the series is better off with Herta involved at some level. Second of all, it keeps another car on the grid. If Herta went away, there was no guarantee that Michael Andretti would fund four cars on his own.
But nowhere in the story did I see any mention of the defending Indianapolis 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, who drove for Herta this past season. There was an unconfirmed report on Racer.com late Friday night saying that Rossi had signed with Andretti, but I never saw anything else about it. For something like that I tend to wait until I see a press release from the team or IndyCar. No such release came over the weekend.
However, there is this one tidbit I saw in a second press release on Friday morning – there is a conference call scheduled for 1:00 EDT today for members of the media with Rossi to discuss his 2016 season. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I can read between the lines and guess that Rossi may be unveiling his 2017 plans as well. With the timing of the two announcements, my guess is that Rossi may be announcing that he is returning to Herta and Andretti for the 2017 season.
I reiterate that that is just a guess on my part. It is just my gut. I saw reports throughout the past week speculating where he might be headed. Those guesses ranged anywhere from back to Formula One to signing with Team Penske to signing with Ed Carpenter Racing to staying put at Andretti. My guess is he is staying put at Andretti, as the Racer.com article said.
Some on social media opined that they would prefer to see Rossi head back to Formula one. That’s being a little short-sighted.
I get it that not everyone cares for Alexander Rossi. He is not my favorite driver in the paddock, either – although he’s never done anything to me personally. Some call him arrogant and aloof. I’ll admit I was very turned off by his demeanor, when he was interviewed on Trackside on the day his signing was announced just before the season started.
But I’ve come to translate his reserved personality as more shyness and awkwardness than anything else. Other than a very brief encounter at Road America, I’ve never spent any real time talking to Rossi. However, in that brief exchange, I found Rossi to be extremely polite but almost painfully shy. I got the impression he would prefer to go through the weekend without talking with anyone except for his crew – just because he is so shy.
Reportedly, Bill Vukovich was like that. There are tales about him cutting up in the garage with crew members, but if an outsider walked in – he would shut down and not say a word. This helped add to his reputation as a surly guy you didn’t want to mess with on or off the track. Rossi does not have the intimidating demeanor that Vukovich had, but I think there may be some similarities.
But if you think the Verizon IndyCar Series or the Indianapolis 500 would be better off without Alexander Rossi, you are sadly mistaken in my opinion. You want the defending winner of the Indianapolis 500 around next season – especially in May.
I remember in 2008, there was a great joke making the circles that the Daytona 500 would have more Indianapolis 500 winners that year than the Indianapolis 500. It almost happened, because Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish both joined Juan Montoya in NASCAR for that season. Had it not been for Buddy Rice joining Dreyer & Reinbold just before the season opener, and Buddy Lazier as a one-off – that would have been the case. With the two “500” champions from 2006 (Hornish) and 2007 (Franchitti) gone from the entry list, Helio Castroneves and Dan Wheldon looked to be the only returning Indianapolis 500 winners in 2008, for a while.
Although his race win last May was considered a fluke because of the way he and Bryan Herta played the fuel strategy; Rossi proved throughout the year to be a quick study. He admittedly struggled on the ovals, but his confidence on ovals seemed to grow as the season wore on. I’m thinking he will come of age next season, with one full season under his belt. Perhaps more importantly, he will have a full offseason under his belt as well.
Last year, he was hired just before the start of the season without any chance to get to know his team or these cars. Yet he seemed to methodically improve his skills as the season progressed. You could tell early on that he has talent. As he gained experience to go along with the talent, it showed.
I think he also learned to respect what it took to drive these cars. I don’t think it was quite as easy as he initially thought. My impression from his Trackside interview was that he looked down on IndyCar and didn’t really take this form of racing seriously. I think he surprised himself through the season how much he enjoyed this type of racing.
So, I think Alexander Rossi will be back in the Verizon IndyCar Series and I think it will be with Andretti Autosport. Do I think he will never entertain thoughts of a return to Formula One someday? No, I think he will. But for now, I think the young American driver is enjoying being back in the US and I think he intends to make the most of it. By winning the Indianapolis 500 in his first crack at it – I’d say he’s off to a nice start.