IndyCar

Why Grosjean believes he’s in the right place to succeed in IndyCar

In his rookie season, Romain Grosjean was made to feel very welcome in IndyCar by everyone, it seemed –the public, rival drivers, the media, team owners. Equally, he and his family have been captivated by America and bought a house in Miami.

Yet you still get the impression that the real reason Grosjean is staying in IndyCar is to experience that winning feeling again. He arrived at the Lotus Formula 1 team with as impressive a CV as it’s possible to accrue in junior formulas, went on to score 10 podiums over the next four years despite never having the best car, and then felt his talent being wasted in increasingly uncompetitive machinery at Haas.

It’s little wonder the IndyCar rookie didn’t make a huge deal about losing a potential first win on the Indy road course last May to questionable blue-flag rules: the important thing was that he had fought for the win and been able to prove he still had ‘it’. Two more very hard-earned podiums later in the season confirmed that.

Now expectations have been raised by his move from Dale Coyne Racing to Andretti Autosport for year two, which kicks off this weekend on the streets of St Petersburg. Sure, Michael Andretti’s squad hasn’t won a title since 2012, but Alexander Rossi challenged for it in 2018 and 2019, and Colton Herta scored three victories last year. Could Grosjean be a title contender in only his second IndyCar season? For now he’s publicly damping down such thoughts.

“I have very little experience of the championship, especially ovals of course,” Grosjean admits. “Never done Texas or Indy, only Gateway, and this year we have two races at Iowa, and the Indianapolis 500 always counts for double points… So I need to make sure I score as many points as I can on ovals with as little experience as I have.

PLUS: Why Grosjean’s oval commitment shows he’s serious about IndyCar

“But on the other hand, I’m with a team that is very strong and we are already working well together. From the first introduction I had with the people on the team to the test at Sebring last week, everyone has been very helpful, and the car is very good.

Grosjean has settled well at Andretti Autosport and feels confident in his car

Grosjean has settled well at Andretti Autosport and feels confident in his car

Photo by: IndyCar Series

“I think my fifth lap on Monday morning was one of the fastest laps of the session. I was able to come back to the pits and say, ‘The baseline set-up is absolutely amazing!’ There are a few things we can change that will make it a little more to my liking, but they are very minor adjustments.

“The relationship between the engineers at Andretti – and Meyer Shank – is very strong, and of course Olivier [Boisson] has come with me from Dale’s team, and he has fitted in well. But the competition within the team is also very strong, and they have a lot more experience than me – Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta, Simon Pagenaud and Helio [Castroneves] – and we’re all sharing the same information and feedback. And that’s even before you look at competition from outside the team.

“But we’ll see how it goes. I have good experience from life, my career, and sure, the idea is to challenge for the title in the short or medium-term. I don’t want to talk long-term because I’m too old! Nah, I’m joking.”

“It’s been very straightforward for Olivier and I to translate what we were doing last year, and apply it to the Andretti set-up” Romain Grosjean

Grosjean finished his one road/street test day with second fastest time, 0.17 seconds behind Herta on Sebring’s 52s, 1.7-mile lap. For a first-time experience of Andretti set-ups, that was commendable, and there is plenty more to come.

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“We didn’t try fine-tuning the set-up to my liking yet, we didn’t change the front-wing angle all day,” he says. “We stuck pretty much with the base set-up but making big changes to other things. For example, Olivier and I were experimenting with roll centres to feel what those changes did to the Andretti platform, so when we get to St Pete or Detroit we’ll know what tools we have. For St Pete we will make some adjustments to give me a touch more front end, something I really love in a racing car, and from there we will see where we are.”

One aspect that will help his progress is that he’ll be able to lean on a couple of his team-mates when they all need to try out different set-ups during a fraught practice session.

“It was interesting,” he observes, “that if you looked at the traces of myself, Colton and Simon, it would be very hard to tell who is who. We drive very similar.”

Just as Grosjean and Boisson appreciate their new environment, so their new colleagues appreciate the fresh stream of input, intrigued by how the #51 Coyne car last season often beat them.

Grosjean is joined at Michael Andretti's team by engineer Boisson, who followed his compatriot across from Coyne

Grosjean is joined at Michael Andretti’s team by engineer Boisson, who followed his compatriot across from Coyne

Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“It’s been very straightforward for Olivier and I to translate what we were doing last year, and apply it to the Andretti set-up,” adds Grosjean. “I have 20 years of open-wheel experience and my feedback has always been one of my strengths. So when I was talking about dampers, I think the Meyer Shank guys [who tested the next day] used my feedback to make changes for their test. Andretti and Meyer Shank together is a big team and we’re lucky to have so many fast drivers, so it’s up to us to take advantage of this and be the best.”

The elephant in the room, of course, is the aforementioned ovals. He looked brave and bold at Gateway and he passed his Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But not much of what he learned on either course is applicable to Iowa Speedway or Texas Motor Speedway, or racing in the pack at Indy. What are his realistic targets on the left-turn-only tracks in 2022?

“Well, ‘confident’ would not be the word,” he muses. “I feel you need to respect the ovals a lot, it’s different from anything I’ve done before. I get the excitement of it, I like the chess game aspect at Indy; about getting in position and tuning your car for the final stint. I think it needs to be your day –you drive well, the car handles well, and then you need that extra bit of luck that comes with any work. It’s going to be about getting up there, learning from my team-mates and doing my best to score good points, to see if I can get in the top five.”

Andretti Autosport team manager and COO Rob Edwards is deeply enthusiastic about Grosjean’s arrival.

“There’s an excitement surrounding Romain, a fresh outlook that he brings from that combination of years of experience in Formula 1 and a year of IndyCar racing in another team,” he declares. “The benefit of having both him and Olivier on the team isn’t underestimated here.

“To be candid, Olivier is someone we looked at hiring many years ago, and he and Romain have brought a great amount of knowledge, and also bring their own chemistry too. That will benefit the team as a whole. After the morning session at Sebring on Monday, as you’d imagine, the first bit of data that Colton and Alex wanted to look at was Romain’s.”

For Edwards, the fact that Grosjean now wants to race the ovals speaks volumes about how he will approach them – with the open-minded yet clued-up approach that he applied in his transition from F1 to IndyCar. ‘RoGro’ won’t run before he can walk.

“If you were listing the things that could make this year a title-winning year for Romain, one of the things we’d keep uppermost in our mind is to attack on the courses that he knows,” says Edwards. “Go for the wins on road and street courses, but at places like Iowa and Texas, remember that the championship is not generally won by anyone with more than one DNF.”

Edwards wants his new charge to concentrate his efforts on tracks he already knows from his 2021 rookie season

Edwards wants his new charge to concentrate his efforts on tracks he already knows from his 2021 rookie season

Photo by: Barry Cantrell / Motorsport Images

Still, like Grosjean himself, Edwards is keeping his expectations for the #28 car very much on the moderate side.

“I’d be very disappointed if we couldn’t get Romain, Colton and Alex in the top 10 in the championship,” he says, “and I think the goal is to have at least two of them in the top five. Which one of them is where, I think, will come down to things outside our control…

“For us it’s an opportunity to get fresh insight that helps push the whole team forward, and for him – someone who’s clearly very quick –it’s a chance to translate that speed into wins” Rob Edwards

“Colton should have won the championship last year, and we can look at it as a missed opportunity, so the #26 programme is focused on making sure that opportunity isn’t missed again. In Alex’s case, the focus is on getting back to the way they were in 2018 and 2019, and some of that is about not putting too much pressure on – getting back to what comes naturally, and not thinking about, ‘It’s been X number of races since we last won.’ If you’re qualifying top six and running in the top three each weekend, at some point it’s going to be your day.

“And as for Romain… Well, for us it’s an opportunity to get fresh insight that helps push the whole team forward, and for him – someone who’s clearly very quick –it’s a chance to translate that speed into wins. And we’ve every confidence he will do that.”

Autosport’s interview with Romain Grosjean is part of a wider IndyCar preview package in this week’s magazine, which also features a free 28-page Engineering supplement. For more information, click here.

Grosjean is relishing the prospect of a full season in IndyCar, including taking on ovals

Grosjean is relishing the prospect of a full season in IndyCar, including taking on ovals

Photo by: Chris Owens

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