Californian teen Alexander Rossi talks candidly about his preparations for the upcoming season California, USA - Since his announcement that he would be contesting the 2007 Formula BMW USA championship with Hearn Motorsports a mere eight weeks...
Californian teen Alexander Rossi talks candidly about his preparations for the upcoming season
California, USA - Since his announcement that he would be contesting the 2007 Formula BMW USA championship with Hearn Motorsports a mere eight weeks ago, Alexander Rossi has been working flat-out in preparation for his bid for the title. Despite the numerous tests he has already completed with the team, his intense daily physical fitness sessions and his schoolwork commitments - Alexander is only 15 years of age - he still found time to talk to us at length and provide a fascinating insight into what it takes to be a successful racing driver in the 21st century.
You are right in the middle of an intensive testing program in preparation for the Formula BMW 2007 season. How is everything coming along?
"I couldn't ask for a better start to our pre-season winter testing. The car has been performing exceptionally, and we have been very quick at every track we've tested at. The team and I are getting along great and everybody is very excited about what testing we have left. We feel that Hearn Motorsports is a major championship contender, and we look forward to carrying all of this momentum into the opening round of the Formula BMW championship."
Now that you have completed a couple of tests, what are the differences between the FBMW car compared to the Barber-Dodge you drove last year?
"The entire car was different! The biggest difference I noticed was the stiffness of the Formula BMW because it has a carbon fiber chassis, versus the frame-rail chassis of a Barber-Dodge (actually, a Barber-Mazda now.) I also loved the amount of braking power the FBMW had; it was truly phenomenal how hard you could press the pedal without the front tires locking-up."
Speaking of Barber-Dodge, how important for you was it to be the scholarship winner, and how has it furthered your career so far?
"Winning the Skip Barber Karting Scholarship has definitely been the highlight of my career thus far. It was such an amazing feeling knowing that I had beaten some of the best karters in the nation. When it was announced that I had won the whole thing, the sheer pressure that I had felt during the last session was suddenly released - it was the greatest feeling. Putting the huge confidence boost aside, it is a great accomplishment to have on my resume. Skip Barber is a highly regarded series and I could not have gotten this far in racing so quickly without the help of all their instructors and staff; it's truly amazing the amount of knowledge and experience I gained from them. They made my transition from karts to cars go through very smoothly." continues You narrowly missed out on the '06 Barber-Dodge National Championship, was that a setback at all?
"No. I mean I was certainly disappointed that I couldn't wrap up 2006 with a championship, but I believe that the lessons I learned during the season are going to help me out a lot going into the 2007 FBMW USA Championship."
Obviously there was nothing left to prove at Barber-Dodge level and a progression was inevitable. What were the reasons for choosing the FBMW series over, say, Star Mazda?
"Primarily Team Rossi Motorsports choose FBMW due to the fundamentals of the racecar and the series. Although both are very successful series, the FBMW series concentrates only on young developing talent - like me - without the combining 'masters' with 'up and comers'. The FBMW is not as fast of a racecar as the Pro Mazda, but I feel that a combination of things FBMW offered were the best step forward for my career."
What, in your view, will a driver need to accomplish during 2007 in order to win the FBMW title - what will be the key to capturing a championship?
"Personally speaking it will be the art of pacing myself! If you're out in front, it is important to learn to pace yourself; so you don't end up making a hasty mistake. If you are mid-pack you need to figure out if it is worth getting one more position. If it is a high-risk move, then you need to establish that and wait for the right moment to pounce. This aside, qualifying is going to be extremely vital in regards to winning races. The actual races are quite short, so you don't have a lot of time to move up through the field if you had a poor qualifying effort. So, in a nutshell, you need to be fast and smart almost all of time, but that comes as no surprise does it!"
You've signed with Hearn Motorsports. Tell us a little behind that decision; what were the guiding factors there?
"This is mostly a driver championship vs. say, an engineering championship. Richie Hearn and HMI expressed great interest in my ability to win and he was willing to surround me with the proper support needed for my driving style, as well as financial assistance. Additionally, Richie is a racer himself and this was also important in our decision process; knowing he would be my driver coach for the 2007 season. After my signing, HMI have made some changes for the upcoming season and it is becoming clear that we have a very strong championship-challenging combination."
And what exactly will you be asking of your engineer and mechanics throughout the season - what is it you need form the car and the team to get the job done on-track?
"A key thing is for our goals to be aligned as we work as a team each day, but the most important factor is to finish the races! Uncontrollable things can happen because I am participating in a sport that requires the use of machines; so there are going to be failures. I'll be asking the guys "Let's just keep these minimized to practice sessions only." You can't ask for, or expect, total perfection, but clear attention to detail is very necessary."
During a race you are usually found at the front. Are you at your strongest while leading, or fighting in the pack?
"I would have to say fighting in the pack. Being out front is always what you shoot for, but I find it a lot easier to make mistakes when you only have pressure from behind. In a pack, you kind of just let everything flow and it normally ends up in a good situation. For example, I had a few bad qualifying efforts last year in Skip Barber [13th at VIR and 10th at Lime Rock] but I ended up winning both of those races from somewhat deep in the field."
So what then, would you say are your strong points as a race driver?
"Being able to put a super-quick lap together and staying there. To put it in simple terms - consistency. What I have noticed with other drivers is that that they can put down a 'miracle lap' but then they are more than half a second off the very next lap. If I set a time then I can repeat that lap again and again. I also believe that race-craft is another strong point that I have; I can make moves and make them stick. Whenever I'm behind someone, I feel comfortable that I can get in front of them very quickly."
Turning our attention away from the track for a moment, you don't curtail your racing activities just because you aren't near a circuit. Talk us through a typical day in the life of Alexander Rossi.
"I wake up around 5:00am and by 6:00 I'm doing an hour of 'Strength Segment' physical training. Then I do my chores around the house and catch some breakfast before school, which is from 9:00am to 3:30pm. After school I have the 'Cardio Segment' of my physical training which lasts an hour or so, then I have my foreign language class - I'm studying German - until gone 6:00pm. Then it's dinner and at about 7:00pm I get my free time. As you can see I have quite a busy day!"
And you do this rigorous routine seven days a week? Or are you allowed a day off once in a while?
"Well my trainer actually told me at one point that I was training too much, so I normally take two days off a week - Tuesday and Sunday. I take Tuesday off because I commit this day fully to schoolwork and getting new assignments for my teachers. I take Sunday off because I need to give my body some time to recover!"
I also understand that you are as equally committed to your schoolwork. You maintain a GPA of what?
And you manage all that despite the hours of training you also need to put in every day. That is a lot of effort and dedication. Many people of your age that wouldn't undertake such a punishing schedule. What motivates you, to not just set these goals for yourself, but to achieve them?
"Two Words: Formula One. There is no other way to explain it other than I have a dream and I am going to chase after it. No matter what it takes, I want to get to Formula One, so I might as well get used to the work side of this sport sooner rather than later. If I prepare well and work hard toward that plan, then I can achieve my dream."
Tell us what are targets you have set for 2007 - the minimum you will accept from the season, and the maximum you wish to achieve?
"Well the minimum that I will accept from the season would have to be finishing the season third or better in the championship. Of course my overall goal is to win the 2007 championship as a rookie. I believe with HMI that this championship is definitely within our reach. The entire HMI crew has already greatly impressed me and I have no doubt that they will give me a race-winning car all of the time. I am already getting along great with my engineer - Andy Tagg - and the least I can do for these guys is give them their first of many championships!"
And finally, what is in store over the next couple of months? We are deep into the off-season, what are the plans for you and Hearn Motorsports?
"Work, work and more work! You can see from my schedule on my website that we have a fairly aggressive private testing program that takes us to many tracks. Our goals as a team are that we I get to know my engineer and racecar first and foremost. Then my goal is to quickly learn the different set-ups on the FB-2; knowing that at race weekends we have very little track time to get a read on the car. My immediate goal is for my engineer to get to know my driving style so it is easier for him to make decisions and changes to set-up as we analyze data. Accomplishing this will get us up to speed much quicker on race weekends and increase our chances of winning races and a championship."