Many IndyCar fans were taken by surprise over the weekend when a 24-year old Californian rookie took the checkered flag at the hundredth running of the Indy 500 on an empty tank of gas. But the name had a familiar ring to it for anyone who's been keeping an eye on Formula 1 (or, let's be honest, any of COTA's social media gushing) over the past few years.
Alexander Rossi has been no stranger to COTA. In fact, Rossi was the first professional driver to ever hit the pavement here, driving Turn 16 to Turn 1 when the Circuit was still under construction. In the years since, he's been a fixture at COTA, participating in multiple Twitter Q&As, meet and greets at past Formula 1 USGPs, and even our annual Fan Forum. That was, of course, until 2015.
After flirting with a full time F1 seat with Caterham and Marussia, Rossi was tapped to start five races during the 2015 Formula 1 season as reserve driver for the rebranded Manor Marussia F1 Team. One of those five races turned out to be COTA's very own United States Grand Prix, a fact that famously inspired us to have quite the celebration on Twitter. Rossi drove exceptionally well in wet conditions at that GP, ultimately finishing P12, his best of the season. It was truly a special moment for American F1 fans: the very first time an American has competed in a USGP at COTA, the first to drive on home soil since Scott Speed at (where else?) Indy in 2007, and a shining example that the US is here to make its mark on the Formula 1 landscape.
What's next for the newly crowned Indy 500 champ? He'll continue driving for IndyCar's Andretti Autosport this season, and he's still on the payroll at Manor as a reserve driver. Here's hoping we see him right back in the cockpit of a Formula 1 car at COTA this October.