Romain Grosjean

It was close, but not close enough for Romain Grosjean as missed opportunities on a different tire strategy left him tied with his career-best NTT INDYCAR SERIES finish of second in Sunday’s prestigious Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Grosjean was one part of an exciting end to the 85-lap race as he chased down eventual race winner Josef Newgarden on Firestone alternate (red) tires while Newgarden was on primary (black) tires. For a while, it looked as though Grosjean might score his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES win.

“You know, we had the right tire strategy,” Grosjean said. “Before the last caution, I thought it was going to be great. I’m very happy with P2 today and my first podium in the DHL colors. It’s a great day.”

His charge to the front started on a restart with 19 laps to go when he narrowly avoided Marcus Ericsson’s No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda as it slapped the outside wall off Turn 4. Grosjean advanced to third in his Andretti Autosport machine, and his charge for Newgarden in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet and Alex Palou in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda started.

Grosjean’s No. 28 DHL Honda team’s choice of tire for the final stint of the race gave him more grip, and in turn more speed, early in the run while Newgarden and Palou’s choice of a more durable tire was designed for the long haul.

That tire choice allowed Grosjean to make up ground quickly on the front two drivers. Just three laps later, Grosjean passed defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Palou, but it took him an extra lap to get by as Palou defended his position well against Grosjean.

Once he got past Palou, Grosjean began hounding Newgarden for first, who also sought his first win on the iconic street course. On Lap 75, a caution came out for Jimmie Johnson and David Malukas, who collided in the tire barriers at Turn 8, setting up a dash to the finish.

Grosjean said he thinks his delayed pass of Palou, as well as the late-race caution, foiled his chances to get past Newgarden and score his first open-wheel racing win since winning a GP2 (now Formula 2) race at Hungaroring in 2011.

“I lost a bit of time when Marcus (Ericsson) stuffed it in front of me, and when I caught Alex,” he said. “If the first (pass) had worked I think it was the win. But he did a really good job braking to defend his position, and I had to wait an extra lap and use 15 seconds of push-to-pass.”

The result tied Grosjean’s career-best finish of second, which he scored twice last season during both races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He finished third in last year’s race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, making this his fourth NTT INDYCAR SERIES podium finish in 16 races and his first with Andretti Autosport – a 25 percent success rate for podiums.

“I think this season is going very well,” Grosjean said of his first year with Andretti Autosport. “We had very little testing before St. Pete. We eventually got to testing at Barber and got the car to a better position. The car is straightforward to drive. There’s one thing I need to improve to make it a touch more to my liking, but I think we’ve got a very strong baseline and a car that can go super-fast.”

While Grosjean wanted to win Sunday, he’s still walking away pleased as his eyes are on the Astor Challenge Cup awarded to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion in September. This year, as opposed to 2021 when he ran a partial schedule, Grosjean said he’s altered his aggressive driving style that made several highlight reels last season in favor of a calmer approach that results in more points.

He drove an ill-handling car to a fifth-place finish in the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, and he finished 26th at Texas Motor Speedway with engine issues.

“This year, I know I have to drive a little bit differently,” Grosjean said. “I’m trying to go for a championship, and I cannot just go flat-out all the time. In St. Pete, I was struggling a little bit with my front end, so I kind of took it careful. Today I knew the car was good, and it gave me confidence.”

Grosjean rose four places in the championship to sixth, 43 points behind leader Newgarden heading into the next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race: the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on Sunday, May 1 (1 p.m. ET, live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network) at Barber Motorsports Park.