By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – Heralded rookies Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson came into their first attempt at running the Indianapolis 500 looking to bring home a solid finish, but both found out the hard way just how tough racing in the NTT IndyCar Series at 16th and Georgetown can be.
Both drivers showed speed throughout the Month of May, qualifying inside the top-12 and running well in the practices leading into Sunday’s 106th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but when the green flag dropped it was a different story.
Grosjean, the former Formula 1 driver, held his own after starting ninth, keeping his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda at the tail end of the top-10 or just outside the top-10 for a number of laps.
While it seemed the Frenchman was putting together a solid run, things can change in a hurry at Indianapolis. On lap 106, Grosjean was powering through Turn 2, and without warning, his car snapped around, sending him careening into the outside wall, causing heavy damage to his Andretti Autosport machine.
“The car spun. I don’t know why,” said Grosjean. “No warning on that corner. No issue. It was actually pretty good in (Turn) 1 and 2. (Turn) 3 and 4 was a bit more tricky, but 1 and 2, I was pretty good. I’m actually looking forward to going to see the data and try and understand because I wasn’t expecting anything bad on that corner. Obviously, I spun without any warning.
“Right now, it’s really bittersweet. I wanted to finish the race.”
As for Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, he had a rough go of things from the start of the race, struggling with the handling on his No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, dropping down the running order from his 12th place starting position.
Johnson would spend the majority of the day deep in the field, but did lead one lap during the race by staying out an extra lap during a late pit stop sequence.
Running near the tail end of the lead lap as the race was winding down, Johnson saw his day go from bad to worse with six laps left.
Early in his entry into Turn 2, Johnson’s car whipped around, nearly doing a full 360 before tagging the outside wall almost head-on.
To add insult to injury, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson was handily in the lead at the time, but Johnson’s crash brought out the yellow and subsequently a red flag, setting up a made dash to the finish. Luckily, Ericsson was able to hold off the late race charge and score the win to bank an Indy 500 victory for the team.
“It just spun around,” Johnson said. “I was really surprised that it turned around, and that early. I don’t know the situation – the bad situation I put myself in, but it came around so quick. I hate to do that. I hate to do that so late in the race. Very treacherous environment out there. Learned a lot. Track position was the name of the game and we never had it all day long. Sadly, crashed there at the end.
So, how would Johnson describe his first run in the Indy 500?
“Mixed emotions for sure. I really had higher expectation for our runs throughout the race and just really couldn’t get through the field. Every time I would set someone up for a pass and had the aggression for a pass, the car would wash out and I’d lose one or two spots. Just kept falling further back in the field.
“Need more experience. That part was a little frustrating to not have the car that I needed in traffic. Certainly, learned a lot and had a great experience out there.”