until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Grosjean’s most emphatic indication yet he’ll stay in IndyCar

by Glenn Freeman
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Romain Grosjean has painted the clearest picture yet of his racing future, telling The Race’s IndyCar Podcast that “if you ask me right now what I think, I think that I’m going to stay” in the IndyCar series beyond his one-year deal.

Grosjean is two races into his IndyCar career with Dale Coyne Racing, having impressed by qualifying seventh and missing out on IndyCar’s version of Q3 by 0.069s in his first competitive session since his Bahrain Formula 1 crash that almost cost him his life.

He added a 13th in St Petersburg in what he described as his hardest physical challenge.

Grosjean’s switch to IndyCar was big news in the off-season, and even though his F1 crash at Bahrain meant a change of plans from doing the whole season including the ovals, 2021 was always going to be key to what Grosjean would do long-term.

His family is a big part of that equation, and Grosjean brought them over recently for an RV trip down the east coast before the Barber race.

“My kids, they didn’t want to go back home, they were so happy and they enjoyed it so much,” Grosjean told The Race IndyCar Podcast. “It was probably the best holiday we ever had.”

Expanding on his plans, he told podcast co-host JR Hildebrand: “I came this year really open-minded to do something where I was going to have fun, and I was going to enjoy myself.

“Formula 1 has been an incredible chapter of my life, but if I’m being honest, the last two years, they were quite heavy and not so fun, even though I was working with incredible people.

“I still have really good contact with my engineers and some of the mechanics and some of the boys in the team. But when you go to race and you know that you have the slowest car, it’s a bit hard.

“So I decided to come to IndyCar because on paper, it looked like a championship that I would really enjoy.

“But also, I knew it was going to be tough family-wise, because my family, my kids are at school.

“It’s not like I’m 25, I pack a bag and say, ‘ah, I’m going to go and live on the other side of the ocean’. I need to make plans. And if I move over, I need to get [a] school for the kids and so on.

“Before moving everyone, I decided that I was going to come for a year.

“If you ask me right now what I think, I think that I’m going to stay [in IndyCar]. Let’s see. But definitely I’m happier than I’ve been for a very long time.”

Romain Grosjean IndyCar 2021

IndyCar fans will be hoping that Grosjean’s children enjoying their holiday means he will be even more open to contesting a whole season in 2022, including the Indianapolis 500 which he won’t attend this year because “I’m not a good spectator, I don’t like watching because I want to do it”.

It would be huge for the series if Grosjean and fellow series rookie, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson – who recently softened his stance on ovals and said a test could sway whether he competes on one in the future – could be persuaded into contesting the 500.

If the other stumbling block beyond moving away from Switzerland for Grosjean was if he would enjoy the rigours of IndyCar and how he would adapt, that also appears to have been answered positively.

He’s been welcomed with open arms by Coyne and Honda, which powers its cars. In fact Honda wanted him on its simulator and Grosjean confirmed that the Barber car set-up was 100% constructed on the Honda Performance Development simulator – a glowing reference for a sim that has really come into its own in the last four years or so.

Despite an unconfirmed technical issue in the race which his Coyne engineer Olivier Boisson told The Race “made his job a lot harder and we were impressed that he kept going”, Grosjean completed that Barber weekend with a 10th place.

Grosjean added: “I see things quite differently since the crash. I still do racing very professionally, but I also enjoy myself.

“It was really good to see that we were able to fight at the front, even though we’re a small team, and I’ve got a chance to compete with the big boys.

“We were happy with that and having Barber, the whole weekend went really, really well. We had a few issues in the race. But apart from that, we’re very, very competitive. So that was super cool.”

One of the biggest changes for Grosjean is running on lower fuel than Formula 1, and not having to eke out a stint due to degrading Pirelli rubber. In IndyCar, Grosjean’s been let loose.

“Because we have refuelling, the car is never heavy,” adds Grosjean.

“The first time I did full fuel tank was actually in warm-up at Barber. I speak in kilos and litres and stuff like that, sorry, I cannot do inches and gallons! So they said it’s about 35 kilos, that’s super light. That’s what you call low fuel in Formula 1.

“Then when you jump in the car in the race, you just push every single lap from lap 1 to the end, and that is a big difference.

“You don’t really manage the tyres, because you only need to do 25 laps before you run out of fuel. I really like that thinking, when you just go for it.

Romain Grosjean IndyCar 2021

“The first key for me was to understand how to go fast.

“I remember the first time in Barber [at the pre-season test], I drove the first proper run, very smooth on the steering wheel, quite nice trace and finished a lap.

“I’m like, ‘OK, that looks pretty good’. I came back to the pits and I watched a timesheet, and I’m about 2.5 seconds slower than the fastest! I’m like, OK!

“And then my engineer says: ‘I don’t think that’s what you need here. You can actually push on the tyres, understeer is not fast.’

“And then he was trying to set up the car in a way where it was going to go fast, it was probably less comfortable to drive, just because you fight it a little bit more.

“But then the laptime really goes and comes. In Formula 1, it’s all about the aerodynamics, when you have an understeery baseline you can play with the roll bars and stuff like that, but you are quite stuck.

“While in IndyCar, between the roll centers, the weight distribution, the bars, you can actually make the car to your liking, which is really cool.”

“I have changed a lot my my training regime going from less cardio and neck work to much more strength” :: Romain Grosjean

One area Grosjean has had to work on is the physicality of the cars, which he calls “violent” in terms of the kick-back from the steering wheel, and like a “sauna” from the heat in the cockpit.

“The last 30 laps in St Pete, I was hoping they would never exist!” he added.

“I was absolutely cooked in the car. And I don’t think I was the only one, which made me feel better at the end of the race.

“But physically, the steering wheel is super heavy in IndyCar. There are less G-forces so your core and your neck gets a much easier time.

“But turning the steering wheel and the kickbacks and so on and the grip strength that you need to have makes your heart rate go really high in the race.

“The aeroscreen I believe is a great invention, it is a very good safety measure. But also it blocks the air coming into the car.

Romain Grosjean IndyCar 2021

“So you actually end up sitting in a sauna and driving something which is super physical.

“So I have changed a lot my my training regime going from less cardio and neck work to much more strength and shoulder and biceps, triceps work, which is fun, different.

“It feels good to do something different after 10 years of doing kind of the same thing [training in F1].”

The standard of drivers in IndyCar is always a hot topic as the field is so close and sometimes drivers with huge reputations like Grosjean fail to crack the top of the order.

Grosjean is well placed to answer the question on the standards of the drivers coming from F1, and he pointed to the fact that he wondered when watching in Europe why IndyCar needed four decimal places in its timing separating the drivers. Now he knows.

“Actually, you need to, it’s so tight that sometimes you look at the timesheet, and say, ‘Oh, if I gained two thousandths of a second, I’ll get two positions, and it’s quite crazy,” he said.

“The guys are super fast, it’s not easy to make a difference in laptime. To be two tenths faster than the whole field, it’s very rare.

“I really like it because when you go into qualifying, it’s up to you to make the most of it and to make sure that you haven’t chickened out on a corner and left a tenth and a half just because you didn’t want to take the risk.

“You need to go full on and that’s super cool.”

Grosjean missed the last round at Texas as he’s not doing the ovals, and Pietro Fittipaldi stepped in to race the #51 car.

Although it gave Grosjean a break to get back to Europe to see his family and to assess his first two IndyCar races, he said he “didn’t like” missing a round and that it was weird “seeing my name dropping in the standings”.

He’s keen to get back in the car, and will join Juan Pablo Montoya (Arrow McLaren SP, making his season debut) as part of the 527 F1 starts present on this weekend’s IndyCar grid.

Grosjean was speaking exclusively in the latest episode of The Race’s IndyCar Podcast, which is available on all major platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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