DETROIT: As Alexander Rossi stood near a ballroom at the Detroit Renaissance Center on Thursday (Friday in Manila) last week amid a crush of humanity mingling, talking, laughing and drinking — which looked like the world’s biggest wedding reception had spun out of control — he smiled and thought of something someone told him.
Rossi, along with team owners Michael Andretti and Warren’s Bryan Herta, was in Detroit to accept the won Baby Borg trophy that goes to the winner of the Indianapolis 500. Since Rossi, 25, won one of the world’s most prestigious auto races in May, he has been to several of these kinds of events, where he is feted as the star attraction, like a bride at a wedding.
So Rossi could just smile. As he stood by the actual 5-foot, 4 3/4-inch, 110-pound, $3.5-million sterling silver Borg-Warner Trophy, Rossi reminded himself of his privileged position.
“This is probably the 11th or 12th event we’ve done since the month of May specifically surrounding the 500,” he said. “It’s all very cool, it’s all super-positive things. It’s busy. But you wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”
“I was told something that was quite interesting. My PR person said there’s 32 other people that would love to be in the position you are. So don’t complain too much about it,” he added.
And Rossi didn’t as he recalled he nearly three dozen other racers who didn’t win the Indy 500. He just stood patiently in his crisp blue suit in the center of a sea of people who all wanted to speak with him before he and his team were awarded the Baby Borg 18-inch replica trophy, since the real thing stays year-round at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
“It has to be,” Herta said of the daunting attention. “He makes it look pretty easy, but it can’t be easy. He got thrust into it literally overnight and he’s done a great job with it. He understands what it means to be an Indy 500 champion and the responsibility that comes with that.”
But accepting the Baby Borg, a tradition that started in 1989 because so many drivers wanted the actual Borg-Warner Trophy, has become a unique celebration.
“Well, this is one of the highlights,” Andretti said. “There are not a lot of times when I’d be happy to come to Detroit in the middle of January. But this is one time when I’m really happy to come here. This is my fourth time coming here and hopefully I’ll be coming here [again].”
Andretti could be on his way to booking a return after Rossi signed a multi-year deal with his team in October.
“It’s stability,” Herta said. “For me, since we started in the series, this is the first chance we’ve had to have that kind of stability with the same driver over the period of several years. I’m excited about what that means for us.”
“We had a great first year, he had an amazing rookie season. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe we’ll do anything but improve this year,” he added.
Except for his Indy 500 win, Rossi called his rookie season in IndyCar “horrible” after it failed to produce another podium finish. But signing with Andretti-Herta five months before the season begins in March could make a big difference.
“Oh, massively,” Rossi said. “That’s such an underrated thing in motor sports. What people outside the sport don’t realize is it’s a huge team sport. Obviously the driver gets a lot of attention, but the relationships you have with your engineers, mechanics outside the car is hyper-critical to the results you’re going to get.”