By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – Romain Grosjean may be a rookie in the NTT IndyCar Series, but one thing is for sure, he’s got the hang of things on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
After starting on pole and ultimately finishing second in the GMR Grand Prix back in May, Grosjean hit the ground running this weekend, showing speed from his first laps on track and giving notice that he’d be a contender for his first IndyCar win.
Rolling off third for Saturday’s Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix, the Frenchman was able to keep his No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda in the top-five for the majority of the day, with the exception of pit stop cycles. The strong run put him in a position to challenge leader Will Power for the victory late in the race and when a pair of cautions flew starting on lap 70, he’d have his chance.
On the restart for the first caution, Grosjean made a daring outside pass on second-place driver Colton Herta into Turn 1 and set his sights on chasing down Power for the lead, keeping him within striking distance prior to the final caution on lap 77, which would set up a restart with just seven laps remaining.
This time, Power was able to scramble away from Grosjean’s charging purple Honda, keeping him at bay for the final run to the finish en route to his first win of the season. Grosjean would cross the line in second, 1.1142 seconds in arears of Power’s Team Penske Chevrolet.
“I’ve got the key to the speedway, so it feels like home,” Grosjean said. “I’ll give them back, you know. But I have the key, so it’s home.
“We’ve had a good car here. The truck was quite different from when we came first, so we had to adapt a little bit the setup to make it work. Yesterday I think we had pole, but I made a small mistake in Turn 8, 9, 10, which is probably where we were the weakest this weekend compared to where we were the strongest in May, so the track did change a little bit with the curbs. So, we can analyze that, but definitely the car was good today.
“We know we are very strong on the brake, and in the restart, I gave it a go on Colton. I’ve been racing him for some time, and I know he’s a super fun track and it’s one as a driver you can go and you know he’s going to leave you the place just for a good fight. I wouldn’t do that with anyone, but with Colton it works, and I was hoping to do the same on Will on the last restart, but he went early and just couldn’t quite keep up with him.”
Grosjean will look to take the momentum from Saturday’s finish with him to Gateway, where he will be making his first start on an oval next weekend.
“I did a test day end of July, and there was so much to learn,” Grosjean said. “It’s so different from every type of racing I’ve done before. So next week I’m a rookie, a proper rookie. I’ve been named a rookie all year long. I don’t feel like one. Next week I am one. I just want to gradually go for it, improve myself, learn about it.
“It’s a weird one. The cars drive itself. People are telling you that’ll be fine, and you’re like, what are they talking about; I drive my car. On the ovals I think the car does the work and you control the speed, and it’s quite a bit of a strange feeling.
“I think it’s just going to be a great experience. I want to see how it’s going. Everyone seems to be enjoying ovals there. I still prefer road courses, but I like braking late. But I’m looking forward to it and seeing what we can get out of it.”
Grosjean added that he’s excited to put a checkmark beside the oval box next weekend, but noted that those types of tracks, even a shorter oval like Gateway, deserve respect.
“I’m excited and also I think you need to respect ovals like street courses. There is not much room for mistake, and that’s something you need to keep in mind rather than just trying to go balls out straight away.”
With the addition of Gateway to his schedule, Grosjean will now be running the remainder of the IndyCar season with a chance at taking home the Rookie of the Year title. Scott McLaughlin has run every race so far, while Grosjean has just run the road and street courses, but the New Zealander only has a two-point cushion over Grosjean heading down the home stretch of the season.
“When you miss four races it’s not easy to fight for a championship, but definitely it’s cool to be back in the game,” Grosjean said. “Saying that, Scott is really strong on ovals, so he may be strong next week and score some good points.
“I think generally I’ve been impressed with Scott this season, coming from V-8 Supercars, jumping in INDYCAR, sitting in the seat and doing what he’s done, it’s been very impressive. So yeah, it’s cool to be catching up back. I think we could have more points if it wasn’t for Nashville and Detroit where we didn’t get very lucky.
“We just go racing, we have fun and we do the best we can. I think for the team it’s important to stay in the lead, leading second, and if I can get Rookie of the Year it would be nice, but if he has it, he would deserve it because he’s probably having a better rookie season than I am.”