More Good News From Silly Season

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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.

George Phillips

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14 Responses to “More Good News From Silly Season”

  1. Brian McKay Says:

    Andretti-Herta team and a Formula One team, I assume

  2. At this point, anything that maintains stability in the series is a good thing. On another positive note, while IndyCar seldom rates any mention in “Sports Illustrated,” our “silly season shuffle” DID earn a page mention in the mag this week.

  3. Personally, I think having former F1 drivers in Indycar is a good thing, those guys usually bring a high skill level and good budget that will keep owners higher in car count and keep crew employed. There are a lot of high-quality drivers who find themselves without an F1 seat when the music stops – Why wouldn’t Indycar be a good option for them?

    I suppose you could point to what appears to be an “arrogant or aloof” demeanor but I suspect it is more that while he’s an American racer, he’s not the “right kind” of American racer for a vocal group of fans.

    To be honest, for all the arm waving you see in the comments on Racer or various boards about how Indycar needs “American drivers” to succeed the view of Rossi shows that isn’t what that group really wants…

    From reading these comments I believe that this group wants:

    An American kid with a very American sounding name.
    An American kid from Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky or Tennessee.
    An American kid who came up through USAC dirt track racing

    The “ideal” American driver for this group is another Ed Carpenter or Bryan Clauson.

    Rossi’s name sounds European
    Rossi is from California but lived for years in Europe
    Rossi learned his race craft on the F1 ladder circuits and had F1 as his career goal and not Indycar

    Many Indycar “fans” will never forgive Rossi for those sins…It’s the RobinMillerfication of driver perceptions. Stuck in the 60s/70s with no hope of evolving.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I will gladly join those clamoring in the Racer comments section if it gets young Idahoan hotshot Sting Ray Robb into Indycar.

    • Geez, one shouldn’t have to be named John Smith to be cheered by IndyCar fans. Most of our people didn’t come from here originally and yet we are all Americans.

      I am pleased Rossi re-upped with Andretti/Herta.

    • EDGAR Emmitt Says:

      Scott Dixon comes to mind.As he became successful in Indy Car it was a sure bet that he would end up in F1.
      Glad he stated with us.

  4. Racing Acid Says:

    Robin Miller is the biggest AJ Foyt sycophant you’ll ever see. He keeps banging on about dirt track racing in 1960’s as if it was the pinnacle of international motorsport, but I’m digressing. I know George was lukewarm in his reaction to Rossi’s Indy 500 win, but Indycar has undoubtedly lost some of its lustre from its former glory days. Of course the decreasing appeal of motorsport has impacted the sport, but the American open wheel ladder series such as Indy Lights and below are threadbare, with a lot of foreigners and those dreaded “pay drivers”. Indycar has actually improved its standard of racing, however, and I think it’s time fans appreciated Rossi’s efforts, especially if he were to return to F1 and perform well.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    As with many who’ve joined Indycar after spending time in and around Formula 1, Rossi seemed to find the more relaxed (an friendly?) paddock over here to be refreshing. He seemed to be having a lot of fun, which, I imagine is a big reason why he began racing in the first place. Hopefully that continues, retaining the defending 500 winner is important for the series.

    If and when he does return to Formula 1, I would hope that Rossi would be given an opportunity to race a car capable of showing his talent. Personally, I would prefer to see him remain in Indycar, because… well, I prefer to watch Indycar. I would also happily watch him in NASCAR’s truck series, but will never admit that in face-to-face conversation.

  6. Mark Wick Says:

    Rossi has re-signed with Andretti.
    I don’t have a problem with how he won the 500. The winner is the first car across the line after 200 laps, period. J.R. Hildebrand almost got that done with just 2 wheels.
    Anyone who accomplished that deserves the win all alll that goes with it.

  7. it was announced today he had resigned with Andretti.

  8. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    I got to talk to Rossi a bit at Road America and I think the kid is just a bit shy.
    I think the young guy has come to enjoy Indy Car and given time he will be a fan favorite.
    You know a lot of people don’t know who he is yet even with the Indy win.

  9. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    Let’s not underestimate the value of America drivers in Indy Car.
    Most people watch Indy and that’s it.
    The reason I bring that up was the Ryder Cup this weekend when people were screaming USA.

  10. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    I met Alexander at an indoor karting center in Indy in March and we started talking and I could tell he was shy and reserved. We talked awhile longer and he completely opened up and was very friendly and talkative. I was thrilled in May when I was at my 54th Indy 500 and the kid I had talked to in March came home first. I am also thrilled that he is coming back for 2017 with Herta/Andretti. He’s a great young man and deserves to be treated with respect. I believe he will come out of his shell in 2017 and everyone will get to see his true personality. I think it showed what a loyal guy he is when he turned down Manor in August because he had a contract with Andretti and it was the right thing to do. I can’t wait to see what he does in 2017. He is perfect for Indycar!

    • Yes, Paul, I agree that Alexander is a reserved young man. I too think as he becomes more accustomed to interacting with fans and the inquisitive press on a regular basis, he will find his way to a less reserved demeanor. Not everyone is as outgoing as Hinch and Helio, but it does not mean he deserves to be dissed for being Alexander. I think what he has offered in interviews has substance. I look forward to meeting him again in Long Beach at the driver session.

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