TAMPA – IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi has a unique role this weekend; he's chauffeuring the Stanley Cup around during Saturday's Gasparilla parade.
The 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion is in town for the NHL All-Star Game as a guest of Honda, and he'll return to the area March 9-11 for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The Tampa Bay Times caught up with him Friday to chat about hockey, racing and his role as a contestant on The Amazing Race. This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Are you a hockey fan at all?
Absolutely not. My hockey experience is, I went to a Chicago Blackhawks game for basically the national anthem and halftime, because I shot the puck. This is kind of a cool opportunity to have my first hockey experience be something like this.
And you're driving the Cup around?
I'm driving the second-best sports trophy around, next to the (Indy 500) Borg-Warner, obviously. I don't really know what to expect. People say it's the third-largest parade in the country, which blows my mind. I'm looking forward to it. I love pirates as much as the next guy.
What are your big-picture thoughts on the series' new car?
I think that IndyCar did a very good job of redesigning it based on the input that drivers and teams and fans gave. From a styling perspective, I think the car looks good. From a driving standpoint, it's not really too much different. The big change in terms of the racing performance is an unknown for me.
Are you feeling a little more confident going into this year?
Cautiously, right? We've only done testing at Sebring, which is a unique environment, so we'll see. I think compared to other years, it's better, but we need to take a big step forward. Whether we've taken a whole step yet, I don't know.
So what are your expectations for the year?
The expectations are high. We went into Sonoma last year with an outside shot of winning the championship. I think we've got to have that approach – we're going to try to win a championship. That's what motivates us to get out of bed each morning.
What do you like about St. Petersburg as a track and season-opening event?
I love the city. I love the fans that come and the whole kind of vibe and energy that surrounds it. I haven't had great success here in the past (no top-10 finishes in two starts), so from a track perspective I don't love it, but I'm hoping that changes this year.
My mom loves The Amazing Race, so I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about it. Why is being a contestant (with fellow IndyCar driver Conor Daly) something that interested you?
Because I feel that it's kind of my obligation as an IndyCar driver to kind of maximize the opportunities we have. It's one of the highest rated shows on the biggest network, period. It'd be silly to say no to the opportunity. I knew nothing about The Amazing Race. When they called and asked if I would do it, I said yes, then I watched an episode to see what it was. It was an experience you don't get very often, right? It was pretty cool to be a part of.
Are more people stopping you and recognizing you on the streets?
Oh God, no.