NEW YORK (Reuters) - Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi literally coasted to victory at the Brickyard in the 100th running of the race on Sunday but his triumph was anything but worry free.
IndyCar series rookie Rossi won the fabled race after a bold tactical move to forgo refueling to save time and in this individualist sport relied on help from his Andretti Autosport team mates to make it to the finish.
Rossi says he ran out of gas at Turn Four of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval with about 440 yards (400 meters) left.
“I was just praying that there was nobody coming up behind me,” the 24-year-old Californian told Reuters on Tuesday. “It was the longest trip from Turn Four to the start/finish line.”
He had petered down to 130 miles per hour (209 km per hour) by the time he got the checkered flag, almost 100 mph (161 kph) slower than he should have been, but still crossed the line with more than four seconds to spare.
”I kept looking at the Yard of Bricks (marking the finish), looking at my rear view mirror, saying ‘Please, may nobody come and pass me.’
“When I finally got my car over the finishing line I looked to my right and it was ‘Yeah, we did it. Thank god’,” Rossi said from the Empire State Building Observation Deck on the 86th floor about the moment that he felt on top of the world.
Standing next to the giant silver Borg-Warner Trophy whose Art-Deco design looked at home in the iconic Manhattan skyscraper, Rossi praised his fellow Andretti team drivers.
“One of the ways we found most efficient to saving fuel was being in the draft of others,” said Rossi.
”So Townsend (Bell) helped me out quite a bit by towing me around for probably about 12 laps and Ryan (Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 winner) helped me at the end by towing me for four laps.
“It was a huge team effort from Andretti Autosport.”
Team mate Carlos Munoz finished second as Rossi’s No. 98 Honda finally came to rest short of the pit entrance.
Rossi, who joined the Andretti team after driving on the Formula One circuit, said pulling together as a team was not unusual for them.
“The four team mates and the fifth added for the 500 are an incredibly close knit group and after every day we sit down in a circle and discuss our individual day and what worked and what didn’t work,” said Rossi after only his second race on an oval.
“That’s how as a unit, as a team, we move forward.”
Since winning the Indy 500, time has been a blur for Rossi, who lost count of how many interviews he had done with media during a whirlwind day in New York.
“It’s been insane,” said Rossi, breaking into a laugh when asked if he was in danger of running out of gas.
”I’ll be honest, I‘m a little bit on the limit.
“But it’s an amazing city, to be able to come to New York, and a great opportunity and this place gives you energy.”
Along with all the attention came a first prize of $2.5 million.
“I’ll get through it, I‘m young enough. It’s been crazy. I had no idea from when I got out of the car on Sunday afternoon what was going to come. It’s been an amazing experience. I’ll remember these days for the rest of my life.”
Editing by Andrew Both