until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Grosjean’s ‘funnest race ever’ shows how far he’s already come

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Romain Grosjean may have had highlights like his Indianapolis pole position, but at Road America he added two puzzle pieces that really make him look at home now in IndyCar.

Dale Coyne Racing driver Grosjean has constantly improved with every race. He’s bounced back by improving his restarts, pit-out and in-laps, hitting his marks in the pits, understanding strategy and understanding set-up changes versus conditions.

At Road America, he made use of those lessons learned to bounce back from a poor pitstop, returning to fifth place after having been relegated to 13th, again with some feisty moves that caught the attention of anyone watching the race.

“I must say, that was the funnest race ever in my career,” Grosjean said following his fifth place at Road America. “Just right, left, centre, go for it.

“And contact. A fair bit of contact. But I feel like that’s just the way you go in IndyCar.

“I had great fun. I enjoyed it. I think there were a couple of bits and pieces we could have improved, and we could have been on the podium. It was a good weekend for us.”

Romain Grosjean Dale Coyne IndyCar

There are times earlier in the season where Grosjean would have become stuck back there after falling to 13th.

At the last round in Detroit Grosjean’s weekend was promising – in that he certainly found the street course pace that had been slightly lacking in St Petersburg earlier in the year – but also bruising. From a race one puncture to the first-corner sandwiching on Sunday, incidents kept compromising him.

His racecraft seemed surprisingly uncertain at Belle Isle, with a few moves looking almost hesitant and others a bit too gung-ho and long range. It felt from the outside like he was sussing just what he could do wheel-to-wheel with this car, that grip level and those track confines, and not quite judging it right yet.

That all changed at Road America, where he added wheel-to-wheel race craft and nailing IndyCar braking to go on an overtaking rampage in his recovery up the field.

When adapting to a new car, the brakes can often be the most difficult thing to learn because there are so many variables involved and it’s always a combination of brakes, tyres, temperature and surface to get things right. However, Grosjean nailed it, with the highlight being with his pass on Graham Rahal at Turn 5 on Sunday.

“For me, Romain was the driver of the race,” said The Race IndyCar Podcast host JR Hildebrand.

“He was super exciting to watch throughout the event.

“He kept his composure throughout, he obviously had a very opportunistic attitude throughout the event in terms of where he was making passes, but it never looked reckless in any way. It was very assertive, he knew what he had underneath.

Road America 2021 Romain Grosjean IndyCar Dale Coyne

“It’s often as drivers that you say that the braking is really the last thing that you completely come to grips with about a new race car.

“It’s the first thing that you do in the corner but it’s kind of the last thing that you really gain that final bit of sensitivity for in terms of what can the car actually do.

“There’s so much about the way the tyre works, that it all sort of goes together. It’s managing so many things about the way the car works.

“And so to me, it was just apparent watching this race that OK, I feel like he’s got a pretty good feel for it now.”

Grosjean made multiple passes at Turn 5 – it’s a very common overtaking spot at Road America – but the one on Rahal was from particularly far back.

Despite it looking like a relatively textbook move at the circuit, Hildebrand explains why he found it so impressive.

“When he got by Graham, in terms of his inputs there it was the same as [Alex] Zanardi making ‘the pass’ on Bryan Herta at the top of the corkscrew [Laguna Seca, 1996], he wasn’t actually anywhere near him,” he said.

“They kind of braked at the same spot. There was another car that was in the mix there somewhere that I guess Romain was getting by, like a lapped car that they were both passing.

“And then Romain just got off the brake and suddenly was next to Graham and then braked again at the apex to be able to make the pass.

“I’m just like, man, to even have that go through your head that you might be able to do that. To me, that said as much as I needed to know about his comfort level and confidence with the car.”

Road America 2021 Romain Grosjean IndyCar Dale Coyne

Another move later in the race really raised eyebrows, as Grosjean went around the outside of Alexander Rossi at Turn 1. It’s not necessarily an uncommon move, but you can get pushed wide by the car on the inside and be forced to bail out.

The Coyne cars certainly had good straighline speed – Simon Pagenaud remarked he “couldn’t believe it” when he saw how fast Ed Jones was in a straight-line earlier in the race – and Grosjean certainly used that to his advantage in the move with Rossi.

Credit to Rossi, who could have hit Grosjean but left the Frenchman enough room as he went around the outside.

That overtake was less impressive from a physical aspect than the Rahal move – not to take away anything from the difficulty of the pass – but it was more impressive for what it meant.

Rossi is one of the series’ best, most respected and feared drivers. Road America is a track he’s had a lot of success on, but even he couldn’t halt Grosjean’s march.

Romain Grosjean Indycar Road America

“The pass on Rossi even more so really exemplified everything about his attitude in the car, which is awesome to see,” added Hildebrand.

“He was super aggressive with that move to be committed to it in the first place, stuck with it the whole way through. It’s an easy move to bail out of like halfway through.

“Particularly when you’re on the outside, you don’t have the position of choice, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, you can get totally screwed by being hung out in that spot – you saw that on guys that were making passes around the outside of other corners, basically for the entire race.”

Adding the sensitivity of the braking and the awareness of where to position his new car are two of the final pieces of the puzzle for Grosjean, who continues to take the fight on pace to the bigger teams.

Providing this wasn’t some sort of Road America one-off, the lessons learned here are going to make him a strong proposition for the remainder of the season – and next up is Mid-Ohio, where his team looked rapid last year.

If you’re a Grosjean fan, things are adding up very nicely indeed.

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