By Steve Keating
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Rookie Alexander Rossi rolled the dice on fuel and hit the jackpot winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, as IndyCar racing ushered in a new era with an American winner.
Rossi, who moved to IndyCar only this year after losing his seat with Formula One tailenders Manor Racing, found himself on top of the motorsports world after squeezing just enough fuel out of his Andretti Autosport Honda to win what is billed as the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing'.
The 24-year-old American, who had competed in just one oval race and had never raced at the Brickyard until this month, coasted across the finish line more than four seconds ahead of a charging pack led by Andretti team mate Colombian Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden in third.
Competing in just his sixth IndyCar race, Rossi had never led a lap until Sunday, his best finish a 10th at a road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier in the month.
It marked the first win by a rookie since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000.
While the leaders dove into the pits with just under 10 laps left, Rossi and team owner Michael Andretti gambled he had enough to make it to the end and moved into the lead.
It set up a nail-biting finish to the milestone 500 as Rossi nursed his car to the checkered flag then glided to a stop and was towed into Victory Lane where he received the traditional quart of milk.
"I have no idea how we pulled that off," offered a disbelieving Rossi, as he climbed out of his car. "I just can't believe we've done this.
"I'm just so thankful to do this on the 100th running.
"I cherish the fact at one point we were 33rd. We rolled the dice and came through and made it happen."
It was the victory many of the 400,000 motor racing fans had come to see.
The sunkissed sellout crowd, most of whom had arrived long before sunrise, stood and cheered through the final tense laps before erupting in wild celebration that rolled like thunder across the sprawling 2.5 mile (4.0 km) oval.
(Editing by Andrew Both)