Veteran Formula One driver Romain Grosjean admitted this week he had been struggling to explain to his family why he was so interested in racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2021.
That was until a video posted by Will Power on Twitter caught his eye. The camera’s view was from Power’s helmet during preseason testing earlier this week at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway. Grosjean could hear the sound of the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engine, and he felt the thrill of the road. It spoke to him.
“Sexiness,” he called it.
Grabbing the clip, he sent it to his wife, Marion.
“This is why I do it,” he said to her. “I felt like this is what I want to do. It looks mega. Let’s do it.”
The Frenchman will begin his INDYCAR driving career with a Feb. 22 test at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. He won’t be completely healed from his fiery crash Nov. 29 at the start of F1’s Bahrain Grand Prix – his burned hands are still healing – but INDYCAR’s season doesn’t begin until April 18, and he will have three more days of testing the No. 51 Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing.
Grosjean will compete on INDYCAR’s road and street circuits and maybe the series’ Aug. 21 oval race at World Wide Technology Raceway. However, he will not race on the series’ two superspeedways – Texas Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway – out of respect to his family, which for nearly three minutes following the Bahrain crash feared the worst. The driver of the No. 51 car for those races has not been named.
But to listen to Grosjean this week is to know he is beyond excited for this new adventure. To point: He knew exactly how much time he has invested watching recent races on YouTube.
“Eighteen hours and 36 minutes of INDYCAR racing over the last couple of months,” he said, laughing. “I think the excitement comes from the fact that in Formula One, after Turn 1 you normally know what’s going to be the race result just because you know the pace of the car.
“Some things can change, but nowhere as much as in INDYCAR.”
Grosjean used INDYCAR’s 2018 race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as an example, illustrating his point in detail.
“Sebastien Bourdais had an issue in qualifying and started in the back of the field,” Grosjean said. “He came back (through the field) like a bullet from the gun and finished sixth, just behind Scott Dixon.
“The race was not over (for Bourdais). The strategy was the alternative one. He started on the black tire, went for the reds, just came from the back. That was great to see.”
Grosjean continued to praise INDYCAR’s style of racing.
“(It’s) the way you can follow the car in front of you, the way you can slide the tires, the way you can either try to play with your ‘push to pass,’” he said. “The fact the cars in qualifying are within six-tenths (of a second) of each other, that is all really exciting.”
Grosjean, who turns 35 on INDYCAR’s opening weekend, had 180 starts over 10 seasons in F1. His first season, in 2009, was with Renault, then it took two years to connect with Lotus, where he spent four years. He spent the past five seasons with the Haas F1 Team.
His F1 statistics are solid but unspectacular: No wins, 10 top-three finishes, all in the Lotus days. But his new team owner, Dale Coyne, noted how wrong it would be to discount Grosjean.
“Look at his resume, he brings a lot,” Coyne said. “Formula One is such a challenging world to judge a driver because it’s by team. But if you look at what he did, we’re impressed what he did before he got to Formula One.
“He won the GP2 series (in 2011) by 35 points. It was a year that I think nine drivers in that series made it to Formula One. It wasn’t a light year. He won six junior categories before that. He’s a winner.”
This deal apparently came together quickly. Grosjean said he reached out to Coyne ahead of F1’s Nov. 1 race at Imola, and he met with his new INDYCAR engineer, Olivier Boisson, over the Christmas break in Switzerland.
Grosjean mentioned several INDYCAR circuits where he is excited to compete, foremost listing WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca as he fondly remembers it from his teenage years playing video games. Grosjean will test there March 1 and race there Sept. 19.
As for his injured left hand, which required skin replacement and surgery to a thumb ligament, recovery has been slow but sure. He is confident he will be fully healed by the start of the season.
“The strength is 90 percent back, which is very good,” he said, showing the pink back side of his hand on the video call with reporters. “Initially, the first limitation would be the ligament from my left thumb because that is just time that heals it.
“But I’ve been very gentle and followed the rules of the doctor, which is a hand specialist in Geneva that I really trust. When he tells me I can do something, I do it. When he tells me not to do it, I don’t do it.”
Most of the current limitations, he said, are related to pain tolerance, but he has shown the ability to handle pain in the past. Twice, has finished on the podium of a race with a broken hand.
Grosjean knows he has a lot to learn about the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in a short period of time, but his experience suggests he’s up for the challenge. His background includes a significant amount of simulator work in F1, which Coyne said Honda’s INDYCAR staff is excited to tap into. That will benefit the team that will field Ed Jones in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan Honda.
Coyne described his team as “the fourth-best” in INDYCAR, and in recent seasons it has won races with Justin Wilson (twice), Mike Conway, Carlos Huertas and Sebastien Bourdais (twice) in recent years and helped put Santino Ferrucci in position to win races several times over the past two seasons.
Coyne sees the addition of Grosjean as a good fit.
“You see how he is; he’s excited about being here,” Coyne said. “We’re excited about having him. I think that’s just a good combination, a good marriage. We can do good things with that.”