For the first time, NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Romain Grosjean turned laps in an INDYCAR SERIES car on an oval during a test at World Wide Technology Raceway on Tuesday.
More importantly for Grosjean, his children were at the test. It marked the first time his three kids have seen race cars at high speed in person, including their dad on the track.
It was important for Grosjean that his wife, Marion, and kids be at the track for this monumental test given what happened last fall in his final Formula One race. Grosjean was involved in a fiery crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix in late November 2020 and escaped with severe burns to his hands.
His wife and kids were watching from home terrified as Grosjean insisted he walk to the ambulance to show them he was OK. But that incident planted worry in the minds of his family for him to get back in the race car, especially on an oval, on which Grosjean has never raced.
While Grosjean agreed with his family just to do the road and street courses in his debut NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, he said he’s been eyeing a run on the 1.25-mile short oval just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. So, while Tuesday’s test was a primer for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on Saturday, Aug. 21 (8 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN), it served a dual purpose to put his wife and kids’ minds at ease.
“It wasn’t planned that they would be here for the test, but then when the schedule paved the way, they’re here and I think it is important that they’re here,” Grosjean said. “It makes me happy that they’re here, and I think for them it makes them feel better that they are around today for me. I think it actually turned out to be really good that they are here.”
Grosjean turned 166 laps in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT (Rimegepant) Honda, which was the fourth-most laps of anyone at the test. According to Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, Grosjean put up a best lap time of 25.3625 seconds, just half a second off the best lap of the day by Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport.
Grosjean said it was certainly strange not turning right and using significantly less brake than he’s used to on road and street courses, but he made one thing clear: driving an INDYCAR SERIES car on an oval is no stroll in the park.
“Everyone who thinks it’s easy to run ovals is absolutely mistaken,” he said. “It is tough and requires a different feeling, but I must say I’m enjoying it. I’m looking forward to discovering more. The racing is going to be the very exciting part. Every time you go into a corner, it’s a high-speed corner, and it’s fun, but it keeps the adrenaline going.”
Grosjean said he spent the day trying to understand how the race car behaves on an oval and understanding the tools that are available to him in the cockpit, such as the weight jacker. He also said the banking, which is 11 degrees in Turns 1-2 and 9 degrees in Turns 3-4, was a new feel for him as he could rely on it to hold the car and hit higher speeds.
He said he attempted to follow James Hinchcliffe in the No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda for a while but admittedly struggled to keep up. It was still valuable for him as he began to understand how the car behaves on an oval behind another car.
In all, Grosjean said it was a successful test, and he’s ready to make his oval debut next month.
“It’s going to be good,” he said. “It’s just Tuesday, so I’m still processing a lot of information, but by the time we come back I should feel better and have better faith. It’s been so fun. It’s been smooth. I’m trying to take it steady and understand what the car is going to do for me.”
While his family will be with him for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix next weekend in the streets of Nashville and at the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix Aug. 14 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, they will return to their home of Geneva, Switzerland, before the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at World Wide Technology Raceway Aug. 21.
But after a successful test Tuesday, oval racing has received the stamp of approval from Grosjean, and his family is more at ease after seeing him reach speeds approaching 200 mph on an oval for the first time.