Alexander Rossi stood atop the Empire State Building, the Manhattan skyline stretching out behind him, and smiled for the camera.
It was an all-American scene starring a kid from California. Two days earlier, the 24-year-old Rossi became the first U.S.-born rookie since Louis Meyer in 1928 to win the Indianapolis 500 — the 100th, no less.
Yet this moment was Made in Europe. Rossi had dreamed of Formula One glory since the age of 10 and moved across the pond when he was 16 to try to make that happen.
When he came to IndyCar this season — only because a full-time F1 ride failed to materialize — the adjustment was, as he likes to say, massive. But it wasn't the first time Rossi needed to be a fast learner. Before trying to master the transition from racing in Europe to racing in the U.S., he had to attempt to do the same in going from the U.S. to Europe.
"It was obviously something I had to adapt to very, very quickly," Rossi said Tuesday. "I had to figure out how to maximize myself under unusual and new circumstances, and it's a very similar thing to what I'm experiencing this year. Maybe that's why the learning curve was accelerated at Indy."
When he made the move as a teenager, he was expecting that the Europeans would look down on an American. That was never the case, but what caught him by surprise was the aggressive style of driving.
"There's rules, but how they're enforced is much more relaxed, I guess you could say, than in America," he said.
It wouldn't be the last time he was forced out of his comfort zone. When he joined IndyCar, Rossi figured "it would be another racecar." Same horsepower levels, similar-sized cars, same manufacturers.
"I was like, 'Yeah, it'll be a seamless transition,'" he said. "Not even close. The downforce levels on an IndyCar are way higher than anything I've experienced. The Firestone tire has way more grip than anything I've experienced.
"The driving style and technique that you need to be fast and successful in IndyCar is different than anything I've experienced before, and I've had to adapt to that and had to find a way to change my natural way of driving."
His first race at St. Petersburg in March, when he finished 12th, was "eye-opening." He realized he had a lot to learn and not much time to do it.
"You find yourself second-guessing yourself a lot," Rossi said. "That's when you rely on your team."
He drives for Bryan Herta in a partnership with Andretti Autosport, which means he can lean on owner Michael Andretti and teammates Marco Andretti, 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sunday's runner-up Carlos Munoz, and, for Indy, Townsend Bell. And he knew he had the whole month of May to prepare for Indy — just his second time racing on an oval.
"Their experience and their knowledge and their capability is exceedingly high," Rossi said of his teammates, "and they've been nothing but helpful to me in trying to get up to speed."
He has a special connection to Michael Andretti, who also went through the experience of racing in both the U.S. and Europe.
"He gets it," Rossi said.