Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Stars lined up for Rossi, but skill played a part

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

Sacramento, California -- Many in the auto racing world are still trying to get their heads wrapped around the galaxy of stars that lined up to enable Northern California’s Alexander Rossi to win the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

That group may include Rossi himself.  After he pulled into Indy’s Victory Lane, he sat in his car trying to compose himself.  He later acknowledged that he wasn’t quite sure how to handle the post-race winner’s chores – how to wear the wreath, the right way to down the bottle of milk, getting the right number of sponsor hats placed on his head.

That was all needless worry.  Like everything else he did on Sunday, the 24-year-old rookie handled things perfectly.

Rossi edged out a field of seasoned, hard-charging veterans, coasting across the finish line on fumes to take the landmark 500.

There was some immediate post-race speculation that he lucked into it, and some said they were upset because the winner won by going slow.


Rossi nursed his fuel allotment over the last 90 miles of the race.  Yes, it was done with constant input from his race team, but let me tell you, it is no easy task to milk 90 miles out of an Indy Car while everybody else around you is charging and seeking racing immortality.

Rossi joked that he did it with “skill,” and while that prompted some chuckles, it was absolutely the truth.  There are numerous race drivers who lack the discipline and patience to bring home victory with so much on the line.

Rossi saw his patience rewarded at Monday’s race banquet, clutching a check written out for more than $2.5 million.

Patience is a virtue.  In Rossi’s case, it was a bank-breaker.

I’d written last week that Rossi had a chance, because his Honda had been fast all month, and he seemed to understand that countless variables go into the Indianapolis 500.  Mistakes, bad judgment, unusual occurrences and plain old bad luck can take out the favorites, clearing the way for an unexpected winner.

Yet Rossi was no slouch.  He consistently stayed within striking distance throughout Sunday’s race.  Past Indy 500 winners, Bakersfield’s Rick Mears among them, always maintained that the idea at Indy was to put yourself in position to win over the last 100 miles.  Rossi followed that blueprint to the letter.

Another Indy axiom:  The track picks the winner.  Maybe, but it tends to pick drivers who have nerve, savvy and patience.  Rossi possesses all three.

In the end, the test has been consistent since the first running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911.   You have to be in front at precisely the 500-mile mark.  That doesn’t always mean the fastest car is going to win, and that’s what makes Indy so incredibly difficult to nail down.

In an era of green-white-checkered overtimes, Indy has stuck with the 500-on-the-nose formula.  Yes, sometimes that produces a winner crossing the finish line under a yellow caution flag.  But it can also make for some amazing stories, like Rossi’s run for the ages on a hot, muggy Sunday in Indianapolis.

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