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Grosjean: First IndyCar pole ‘like being alive again’

by Jack Benyon
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Romain Grosjean says his return to being competitive in motorsport is like “being alive again”, after the ex-Formula 1 driver took his first IndyCar pole on the Indianapolis road course.

Grosjean did not score a pole position in his time in F1 (albeit was on front row), and his Indy pole was therefore his first since 2011, at Istanbul in GP2.

Gp2 Romain Grosjean Turkey

Asked how it felt to be back to fighting at the front, Grosjean said: “It’s like being alive again.”

“A lot of people are asking how I felt watching the first race, the Formula 1 race of the season, and I wasn’t there,” he added. “I said, ‘guys, the chapter is closed for me’. I’ve had a good time, now I want something else. That’s what I came looking for.”

He said that he appreciated the stature that comes with the Brickyard, home of the Indianapolis 500, which Grosjean won’t take part in this year.

“A long time ago I was on pole position,” Grosjean – who appeared on this week’s The Race IndyCar Podcast – said following qualifying. “That feels obviously super good going into the weekend.

“For me it’s very special to be racing here. I’ve been on some of the most famous tracks around the world.

“When I came to Indianapolis for the first time, I realised the atmosphere around, the grandstands, everything that’s happening here, the history of the place.

“Going onto the weekend, we obviously did a lot of work to be good and also just learning about it.

“Our first segment of quali wasn’t so good. The second one felt much better. Going into the Fast Six I never ran scrub red tires, so I didn’t know what to expect from the car. It behaved really well.

“The first lap I had a mistake – it was a fast lap – but I had a mistake. I knew I had more pace in the second lap. It went really, really good. I thought that could be it. That was it!”

Romain Grosjean IndyCar pole

Grosjean was immediately impressive in his first IndyCar outing at Barber in March, where he delivered seventh in his first series qualifying session.

He struggled at the St Petersburg road course and was 17th although a set-up change was partly to blame and he recovered to 13th in the race – having netted 10th at Barber the week before.

At Indianapolis, Grosjean was fifth-quickest in his group during the first round of qualifying, and was third-fastest in round two to reach the ‘Fast Six’.

He said his fastest lap came on scuffed as opposed to fresh soft tyres and credited the Firestone rubber again, which he has done multiple times since joining IndyCar, hailing the ability to push hard and keep the tyre alive.

He also credited his engineer Olivier Boisson for changes made ahead of Q2 that allowed the Dale Coyne car to come alive.

Perhaps some of the performance he found was down to the track layout.

“All the tracks I’ve been racing in the US, that’s the one that feels the most familiar,” he said.

“I can tell it was actually designed for Formula 1, the way the kerbs are, the layout and the corners. I knew I was going to feel okay on the track quite quickly, whereas St Pete takes a little bit more time to learn.

“Barber, a few tricks here that you need to understand. Here for me it’s a bit more straightforward.

“Yes, there’s a big straight line. I think that’s pretty good for racing. It will be clever on the ‘push to pass’.”

2021 Indianapolis Romain Grosjean Dale Coyne Racing

Grosjean has never been short of self-belief like all drivers at this level, but has acknowledged this switch to IndyCar was going to be tough with a smaller team in such a competitive series.

Asked by The Race when he realised a result of this stature was possible, he said: “If I’m being honest, from Barber onwards, from the practice two in Barber, I could tell we had good pace in the car.

“The first quali in Barber got a bit of traffic in the lap, that’s why I didn’t make it to Fast Six. I could tell we were good.

“On the street course like St. Pete, I think we still need to do a little bit of work, which we’re doing to improve. On the road course, I knew we had a good car. I knew we could be at the front.

“We were fifth FP1, pretty good in FP2 on the blacks [harder tyre]. The reds [softer tyre] were a bit trickier part.

“But I’m also learning about them. Every time we put them on, it’s the first time I used them on the racetrack. Time to learn about it.

“I think IndyCar is super competitive, really much more than a lot of people think it is.

“Also as Josef [Newgarden] mentioned, the cars have been here for a long time, the guys know what they are doing.

“You don’t want to lose a couple of hundredths by hitting a bit of a limiter by upshifting or something like that because that may cost you pole, even Fast Six or top 12.”

Romain Grosjean Indy

If there have been any weaknesses between Coyne and Grosjean so far it has been starts/restarts and pitstops, and both will be vital in Saturday’s race.

Generally starts and restarts are very important in IndyCar, but according to Grosjean you can be a “sitting duck” into Turn 1, which is a 90-degree right hander following a long straight.

Only one of the four races in 2021 so far was won from pole, by Colton Herta at St Pete. But even if tomorrow isn’t the place where Grosjean nets that first IndyCar win, he isn’t concerned because qualifying has proven a point.

“The good thing about being on pole today is that it may not be the only one,” he said.

“We have a chance when we race again to do more. It’s not like a one-off because it was dry for one or wet for the other.”

Grosjean gave his clearest indication yet that he wanted to stay in IndyCar on The Race IndyCar Podcast earlier this week, but went one step further following qualifying.

“I started looking at houses in the US, if that’s the answer that you want,” he said when asked if he saw IndyCar as a long-term option.

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