|AP Photo/Michael Conroy
Winning iconic races often changes the career course of a young driver. Alexander Rossi is no exception.
Rossi spent his entire childhood chasing a career in Formula One, then in one last-minute deal found himself with a job in the IndyCar Series. It wasn't particularly the job he wanted, but it gave him seat time as he waited for an opening in Europe.
Then Rossi pulled off one of the more shocking wins in IndyCar history. He stretched his fuel and outsmarted the competition to win the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 earlier this year.
Just like that, Formula One didn't seem to be the lifetime goal anymore for the driver from California.
"I won't be continuing in F1 as any type of reserve driver in 2017," Rossi said Monday. "When Rio Haryanto lost his seat, I was offered to take his place -- and I turned it down because I didn't think it was appropriate to do, for Andretti Autosport and the Verizon IndyCar Series. I made that call back then in August. I've come to terms with it."
Rossi readily admits that winning the Indy 500 radically altered his plans. His deal with Andretti-Herta Autosport was thrown together right before the start of the season, and it permitted him to continue on as a reserve driver in F1.
With one foot still in the door at Formula One, he had something to fall back on as he struggled to learn his new team, the nuances of IndyCar and how to race on ovals.
"It's been challenging," he said. "But obviously the flagship event and the highlight race is the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, it gave us an incredible year from the standpoint of my future in America and the future of my career in IndyCar. I think that definitely shifted the direction of a lot of things."
Rossi confirmed Monday that he'll return to Andretti-Herta Autosport in a deal for the 2017 season that has options on the backend of the agreement. To be competitive each week, and have a legitimate chance to run for the title, made Rossi realize his focus can only be on IndyCar.
He'll finish the F1 season as a reserve driver at Austin, Mexico and Abu Dhabi, then turn his attention only to IndyCar.
Rossi gave no indication that letting go his dream was a difficult decision.
He races alongside a pair of Americans at Andretti-Herta in Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, and both his team owners are former American drivers. For Rossi, who had hoped to proudly display red, white and blue throughout his racing career, he's found an alternative means.
"One of my huge things when I was growing up and wanting to race in Formula One, aside from the desire to race in Europe, was the fact that I wanted to represent the U.S. and be an American driver that was successful," he said. "I think that even though the IndyCar Series is an American championship, there's been a lot of longing for a young American talent."
Plus, he added, "the community of teams and drivers, you know, everyone really kind of supports each other in a way that I wasn't used to in Europe."
Now it's up to IndyCar to capitalize on Rossi's decision to stick around.
The series has done decent work marketing Graham Rahal and budding star Josef Newgarden -- it helps that both American drivers win races -- and IndyCar has put a tremendous push behind Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe, who is currently starring on "Dancing With the Stars."
With Rossi now in its arsenal, there's potential to groom another American star.
"I started the year with a completely unknown -- I had no understanding of what the Verizon IndyCar Series was or what it stood for," he said. "The first thing that struck me was competitiveness, which I hugely enjoy, and the second thing was how diverse you have to be in order to win this championship.
"The fact that there are so many different tracks and you have to be good at so many different things, I think is a very unique thing and something that I've really enjoyed being a part of this year."