Romain Grosjean has had a taste of IndyCar ovals. Now he wants a seat the big kids’ table for the biggest oval race on the planet.
Grosjean, the former Formula 1 driver who will be racing next season for Andretti Autosport in the No. 28 DHL Honda, completed his Rookie Orientation Program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday. He shared the stage that day with Jimmie Johnson, who was also doing the Indy 500 rookie program. While Johnson is still discussing with his family the pros and cons of racing the big ovals in IndyCar, Grosjean is all-in for a full season run for Andretti in 2022.
Not unlike Johnson, Grosjean said he felt encouraged by Wednesday’s session at the Brickyard.
“I think really the most stressful part was to know what my first lap speed was going to be,” Grosjean said in a Zoom interview with the media on Wednesday. “You grow up or move from there. I had no idea what to expect to get to 205. Then it went pretty smoothly, enjoyed it. When you have to go above 215, that’s where the fun starts.”
Strangely, Wednesday’s test was also the first time Grosjean had even seen, in person, single-seat Indy cars going the traditional counterclockwise direction around the Speedway.
“That’s correct,” Grosjean said. “I was living at the Speedway with my boss, with the family. We saw the two-seaters going. That’s basically the only time I saw cars going that direction.”
Grosjean lost his ride in Formula 1 in 2019 after five seasons with the Haas F1 team. Last year, Grosjean came to the United States to race Indy cars for team owner Dale Coyne. He turned in a solid season of three podium finishes in 13 races, including runner-up finishes in both road-course races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Now he’s in the yellow No. 24 for Andretti.
“I mean, I think if I look at the past year, it’s an incredible journey from (the) fire (at Bahrain) to racing for one of the biggest name in motorsports,” Grosjean said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity I have. Every day I remind myself how lucky I am to be alive, how lucky that I came in IndyCar and realized that it’s a place where I can be super happy.
“So obviously being in a team like Andretti, having Michael (Andretti) coming in the morning, having all the engineers and the database, all of that together, it’s just a great thing to live. I realize every day that I live something quite special. When it’s a bad day or when you know things are not right, I’m like, Hey, you can be grateful of what you’re having at the minute and I need to enjoy that.”
Grosjean reached 228 mph in his rookie test. Fast, yes, but not the fastest he’s gone in a race car. That would be 236 he reached on the F1 track in Mexico.
“Again, the question, always ask the question, how fast is it,” Grosjean said. “It doesn’t feel fast because you go in a straight line in a track that’s designed for it, then you go in the corner. Yes, you know it’s fast. If things go wrong, they go wrong very, very fast. Whilst everything is under control and the car feels good, it just feels like it’s normal.”
Andretti Autosport’s newest driver, in addition to his new journey with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is also getting used to the new car. While the differences are not as dramatic as those between a F1 car and his Indy car, there’s some getting used to the differences between Dale Coyne Racing and Andretti machines.
“Well, the steering wheel is different because every team can put the buttons where they want,” Grosjean said. “Some of the buttons are different. Need to get used to them. I pressed a few times the overtake button for the pits limiter, a few things like that. The screen, the dash, was a bit different as well. I was getting used to it.
“The cockpit feels pretty much the same, especially that we could carry over my seat from Dale Coyne to Andretti. All my seating position has been the same. Only thing is I was using a Ryan Hunter-Reay grip today on the steering wheel, whilst we are going to do mine now. That was a bit different from what I’d ideally like.
“Apart from that, it was good. It was just going and racing.”
Grosjean got his first taste of an oval this past season at Gateway, where he started 14th and finished 14th. More important, he finished the race and was running at the end. Now, it’s time to take his IndyCar career to the next level with Andretti.
“They do want to be fighting for championships, be at the front,” Grosjean said. “It was something that I feel comfortable with my decision. I think you need to respect ovals a lot. Today, as I say, it doesn’t feel fast when everything goes well, but if you start losing the rear-end in turn one, two, three or four, you know the wall is there.
“You’re still doing 200-something miles an hour. The cars are getting safer and safer. You try to respect the wall, stay well from that zone.”
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