Former Formula One driver Romain Grosjean, who competed in 13 of the 16 races in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, turned his first laps on the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval Wednesday during the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program. He spoke with a small gathering of reporters, including Curt Cavin from INDYCAR.com, during the event.
Q: We saw you take a selfie with Jimmie Johnson. That was cool.
Romain Grosjean: That's what I love about INDYCAR. We always get on nicely together; it's a good family. Jimmie, I respect a lot, obviously, with everything he's done in NASCAR. But I'm very impressed with how he improved in INDYCAR through the season, especially the last two races, where I was quite amazed with his pace and his race craft. When I knew I was coming to test here, I sent him a message that said, ‘I'm proud to be sharing the track with you for the day.’ I'm a big fan of his NASCAR career, and he knows what he is doing on ovals, So, it's cool to be here with him.
Q: Have you ever seen a car go around IMS in the counter-clockwise direction?
A pause while he thinks about it.
Grosjean: Two-seaters only. I've been living here this summer, so I've seen a few things (he’s smiling). I rode my bike on the track, I've walked around, I went in the grandstands. I went to the gym in the Administration Building. I’ve been on top of the suites (above the F1 garages). The only thing was, the Pagoda was closed, but I got to do it during the REV Gala. I know pretty much most of the track.
Q: I like that you went to the gym in the (IMS) Administration Building.
Grosjean: I like that gym. It's very quiet. It's super helpful to have it here with free access for us all of the time.
Q: What are your feelings and emotions as you’ve now driven a race car around IMS?
Grosjean: The emotions of ovals for me are very new even though I made a race (oval debut in August at World Wide Technology Raceway). I just feel like it's not something that is particularly comfortable. It's not like road courses or a street course where I know what to do and I know how to progress. Where here I have to learn everything. It's funny. I wasn't fast, but the lap was still 200 mph, which is fast, but it doesn't feel like it. It doesn't feel like it's that fast. It feels smooth, and it flows. You can imagine during the race how can I plan the move, how can I get the momentum going. Qualifying, yes, for sure it must be ... pretty something.
Q: Those first laps were at a pretty low speed. What did that feel like?
Grosjean: It honestly didn't feel too bad on the first lap with the experience from (World Wide Technology Raceway), where the car is lively because of the radius of the corner and you brake in Turn 1.
Q: Do you think of Jules Goux, the 1913 winner of the “500,” or Gaston Chevrolet, the 1920 champion, when you are at IMS?
Grosjean: I think more of Simon Pagenaud, to be fair. The guys you mentioned, I know they have won, but it was 100 years ago. Same track, though, same track.
Q: Have you spoken to Fernando Alonso about running on the IMS oval?
Grosjean: We talked about INDYCAR when I went to Spa-Francorchamps. We didn't speak about ovals; we spoke about road courses, how the car behaves and how physical they are. He tested in Barber, which I didn't know. He was telling me that in Turn 12 and 13, he couldn't turn the wheel. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. We didn't speak too much about the ‘500.’ We all followed from Europe when he came here. I hope I can do as well as he did and go a touch longer.
Q: Michael Andretti has worked with Kurt Busch and Fernando Alonso, and his advice to new oval drivers has been to trust your butt. Do you consider that good advice?
Grosjean: As a racing driver, we always decided how much risk we want to take, and it's up to us to draw the line. But yes, I think you can't try to do something that's not possible. On a road course I feel like sometimes you can try doing some magic. On an oval, I don't think that's something you want to try.
Q: What did stepping into the Andretti Autosport shop feel like?
Grosjean: The whole year has been incredible, and that's what I tell myself every day. From where you come from to where you are today, just be grateful. Since the (F1) crash, I've seen life differently. Being able to race for Andretti, being able to represent DHL, which is a huge brand around the world. I've been seeing their colors on cars forever, from Penske to WTCC to F1. They’re colors that I've known for a long time. Being able to wear them means a lot. I'm proud of my work.