Former Formula 1 driver Alexander Rossi has put his former employers on notice with a shock win at the 100th running of the famed Indianapolis 500, recovering from running in last place to claim victory in his rookie IndyCar season.

The Californian, who started the 200-lap race as the field’s best-placed rookie in eleventh place, ran as low as last place before charging through to claim a famous victory.

Having secured a late pre-season call-up to drive for a Andretti-Herta joint-venture entry after his hopes of retaining his Formula 1 seat with Manor Racing evaporated, Rossi’s best finish to-date was a tenth place at the preceding road course race at Indianapolis.

He drove impeccably throughout a tense race and the first half of it on the fringes of the top ten, following the bulk of the field by pitting during the race’s early caution periods. One of the early cautions came when the race’s defending champion, Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya, crashed out at the exit of Turn 2 on Lap 65 to become the race’s first retiree.

It was a later accident for Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin and Rossi’s compatriot and former GP2 Series rival Conor Daly on Lap 114, which ultimately saw the race fall Rossi’s way.

While much of the field elected to pit, Rossi and series journeyman Alex Tagliani both bucked the trend and opted not to pit. That gained them valuable track position, which they subsequently lost when they were forced to pit for fuel and tyres under green flag conditions.

Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda

Alexander Rossi’s victory came with a canny call to run ‘off strategy’ – he crossed the finish line on fumes.

That put them to the back of the field, but the next caution-induced run of pit stops – caused by backmarker Buddy Lazier losing a wheel with 50 laps to go – saw Rossi vaulted to eighth place at the restart.

Now in the mix at the front, Rossi picked up further places when first the leader Tony Kanaan, and then his teammate Carlos Muñoz, were forced to pit for a late splash of fuel.

With the expected full-tank mileage around the 2.5-mile oval proving to be little better than 32 laps, Rossi’s pit crew looked to have miscalculated by making him pit for the final time with 36 tours still to run.

Somehow Rossi stayed in front and didn’t follow the others in for a late sip of gasoline, and crossed the line on fumes before running out of fuel just moments after greeting the twin-chequered flags.

“”I’ve no idea how we pulled that off,” he exclaimed afterwards.

“We rolled the dice and came through and made it happen. This is unbelievable. I have no doubt it’s going to change my life.”

Muñoz finished a fine second ahead of Josef Newgarden, with former winner Kanaan crossing the line in fourth place.

The first half of the race was dominated by a thrilling battle for the lead between Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s polesitter James Hinchliffe – making a remarkable comeback after suffering near-fatal leg injuries just the year before – and the Andretti Autosport duo of former champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Indy 500 veteran Townsend Bell, who swapped the lead repeatedly over the first 100 laps of the race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda

Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe staged an epic scrap for the lead in the first half of the race.

Disaster would strike for the two Andretti drivers, however, when a botched pit exit by Penske’s Hélio Castroneves tapped Bell into a spin and into the path of Hunter-Reay. Both were wheeled back into their pit stalls for new front wings, and it seemed that the Andretti team’s longstanding Indy 500 curse would continue.

Castroneves – the last rookie driver to win the Indy 500 in 2001 – would feature in a late tussle for the lead with Newgarden and Kanaan before dropping back when his left-rear wheel guard came loose.

2016 IndyCar Series 100th Indianapolis 500 – Final Classification (200 laps)
Pos Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
1. Alexander Rossi us Andretti-Herta Autosport 200 3:00:02.0872
2. Carlos Muñoz co Andretti Autosport 200 + 4.4975
3. Josef Newgarden us Ed Carpenter Racing 200 + 4.9304
4. Tony Kanaan br Chip Ganassi Racing 200 + 10.4963
5. Charlie Kimball us Chip Ganassi Racing 200 + 10.5218
6. J.R. Hildebrand us Ed Carpenter Racing 200 + 11.3459
7. James Hinchcliffe ca Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 200 + 12.7744
8. Scott Dixon nz Chip Ganassi Racing 200 + 15.1607
9. Sébastien Bourdais fr KVSH Racing 200 + 21.0613
10. Will Power au Team Penske 200 + 21.5171
11. Hélio Castroneves br Team Penske 200 + 22.1015
12. Oriol Servia es Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 200 + 23.8140
13. Marco Andretti us Andretti Autosport 200 + 24.9700
14. Graham Rahal us Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 200 + 28.2494
15. Max Chilton uk Chip Ganassi Racing 200 + 28.7589
16. Jack Hawksworth uk A.J. Foyt Enterprises 200 + 32.1748
17. Alex Tagliani ca A.J. Foyt Enterprises 200 + 32.1993
18. Pippa Mann uk Dale Coyne Racing 199 + 1 lap
19. Simon Pagenaud fr Team Penske 199 + 1 lap
20. Gabby Chaves co Bryan Herta Autosport 199 + 1 lap
21. Townsend Bell us Andretti Autosport 199 + 1 lap
22. Matthew Brabham au Pirtek Team Murray 199 + 1 lap
23. Bryan Clauson us Jonathan Byrd’s Racing 198 + 2 laps
24. Ryan Hunter-Reay us Andretti Autosport 198 + 2 laps
25. Spencer Pigot us Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 195 + 5 laps
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps Result
DNF. Takuma Sato jp A.J. Foyt Enterprises 163 Accident
DNF. Mikhail Aleshin ru Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 126 Accident
DNF. Stefan Wilson uk KVSH Racing 119 Electrical
DNF. Conor Daly us Dale Coyne Racing 115 Accident
DNF. Buddy Lazier us Lazier Burns Racing 100 Mechanical
DNF. Ed Carpenter us CFH Racing 98 Mechanical
DNF. Sage Karam us Chip Ganassi Racing 93 Accident
DNF. Juan Pablo Montoya co Team Penske 63 Accident

Image via IndyCar Series

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.