By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Welcome to the NTT IndyCar Series, Romain Grosjean.
The nine-year Formula One veteran took part of his first major test at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday. Not only that, it was the first time he was back behind the wheel following his horrific crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix three months ago.
Even from afar, his children were super excited to see their heroic dad back in a race car.
“I’ve been sharing and talking with them a lot, and we made some video calls over the last few days and I showed them the car, and they were happy,” Grosjean said of his kids’ mindset going into Barber.
“It was hard to know that I was going to go away for like 18 days, but they were happy, and yes, I sent them pictures so they could follow on social media a bit, and yeah, I think they know that their daddy is doing what he likes, so I think that’s the most important for them.”
Grosjean’s day consisted of chatting with former F1 competitors Sebastien Bourdais (2008-09) and Takuma Sato (2002-08), realizing the culture of IndyCar racing is vastly different than what he’s used to.
“(Sebastien) was next to me so that was easy. Takuma came over. I saw some of the other guys. Simon Pagenaud in the pit lane, he was driving and I gave him a wave and he gave it back,” Grosjean added of the vibe from the paddock.
“So I think generally it’s been a great day in that respect, with Edward, my teammate. We have a good relationship, as well.
“I told him I used to be an asshole as a teammate back in the days, but now I’m 35 and I’d like us to be friendly. On track you want to beat them, there’s no doubt, but outside of the track I think if we can be friends it’s mega.”
That was just only first of many types of culture shock the Frenchman already went through.
Early in the session, he had an episode in Turn 1 where his No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing Honda went off into the gravel.
“When I was on the brake I also picked up the throttle which you do in high speed,” Grosjean said about his incident. “Because it’s a mechanical diff it does open the diff when you do that, and therefore it makes the car lose, whereas in Formula 1 it would actually stabilize the car, so I would say it was a learning experience and then I didn’t do it anymore, and it was better.”
Grosjean and the No. 51 team were able to get his car back on track an hour later. The rest of his afternoon went without incident.
Due to the test being a private session, timing and scoring isn’t available. However, Grosjean noted how his car was super tight for much of the day.
“There were a couple of very quick times at the front. For us, the last set of tires I didn’t get anything out of it. Just didn’t feel great for some reason and the sun was quite low, so the visibility went down,” said Grosjean.
“But I think the set before — middle of the afternoon we had a decent lap time, especially looking at a track condition maybe a bit hotter. But yeah, generally I think — I don’t know, it’s difficult to say, but it’s definitely super tight, and we need to keep working and I need to keep adapting my driving style and understand how to go fast in an INDYCAR because it’s a bit different than a Formula 1 car.”
In addition of dealing with a tight Honda, Grosjean noted having less power brought some new challenges. This includes how an Indy car is setup differently compared to aerodynamics.
“Formula 1 only works as aerodynamics and the rest is just here to support the car,” said Grosjean. “An INDYCAR works really with the setup and the aerodynamic is much simpler and much less downforce. So high-speed corners is a bit more fruity on an INDYCAR but the low-speed corners actually feel maybe better.”
One of the benefits Grosjean picked up at Barber was outstanding mechanical grip allowing him to try different lines. Even explaining the car differences has its reaching point where it’s not going to benefit people.
“You can try different lines in the corner and you can actually make it smooth in the way you want it,” Grosjean explained. “I think I could go on for a long time comparing Formula 1 and INDYCAR, but I don’t think it’s doing any favor to anyone.
“I think really what I’ve found here is that there’s a lot of mechanical grip and less aero than the Formula 1 car and obviously a little bit less power, but that the drivability of the engine, the modes of the engine, the different maps we tried worked really well.”
With one test session in the books, the next stop will be at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California March 1st as the season opener at Barber is just 54 days away.
Live coverage of the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama begins April 18 on NBC (green flag TBD), as Grosjean will be a part of a star studded rookie class.
He’ll join three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson as a group of men trying IndyCar.
While only McLaughlin will run the entire 17-round odyssey, Grosjean told Motorsports Tribune about the importance of having newer audience watching the sport.
“I think it’s mega to have Jimmie and Scott on board as well as all the other drivers,” said Grosjean. “I think we’ve got a very strong field with a lot of experience from some of the guys, and a huge fan base from Scott and Jimmie. For everyone that loves motorsport, it’s super cool to have that and to be able to watch that.”