As a rookie, Alexander Rossi’s 2016 season wouldn’t classify as “memorable.” Granted, there was the surprise win in the Indianapolis 500 in May (a fuel-mileage win, but a win nonetheless), but otherwise, his rookie season with Andretti-Honda Autosport in the Verizon IndyCar Series typified an average rookie campaign: Consistent, but middle of the road. He finished all but one race (a crash DNF at Pocono), got as high as fifth in the points, and only finished off the lead lap in five of the 16 races. However, Indianapolis was his only podium finish and he placed 11th in the final points.
In 2017, though, Rossi was the perfect example of how a sophomore should perform, scoring a win from the pole in the penultimate race at Watkins Glen and three podium finishes to finish seventh in the final season tally. Although he faced three DNFs during the season, he made up for it with several aggressive runs including a fifth in the first Belle Isle race, a third at Pocono, and a second-place run at Toronto. His average finish in 2017 improved from 11.8 to 9.5 at season’s end.
It may seem like an average improvement, nothing too noteworthy at first, but at the same time Rossi is one of the most analytical drivers out there and it is a safe bet he’ll continue to improve with age. For example, while Rossi’s strong points are the road courses, he still needs work on his oval runs. But his oval results in 2017 were improved, with three finishes in the top-10 including his third at Pocono. Still, he improved at almost every event and considering he’s this early into his career, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t continue to improve especially considering the top-notch equipment he pilots.
With the championship pedigree that Andretti-Honda Autosport possesses Rossi in the best position he could be in his young career. He’s a proven, multiple-time winner with a championship organization that happens to be the flagship Honda organization in the sport. He’s constantly learning and utilizing that knowledge into results. He has the potential to become the new face of AHA, and in time could be the perfect foil to Josef Newgarden over at Team Penske. Of course, that may seem lofty but at the same time, Rossi’s star is rising much in the way Ryan Blaney’s is in NASCAR; slowly, surely, and noticeably.
Rossi’s 2017 season is the perfect indicator of how a race driver is supposed to perform at the beginning of their career. Their rookie year is all about learning and earning the respect of their peers, and Rossi has proven to be a clean competitor. As previously mentioned, he’s able to analyze his performance and use that knowledge to improve himself as a driver. Soon, he’ll be at the next plane of his career: Championship contender.