If Romain Grosjean wins his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race Sunday at Road America, he wants to celebrate with Wisconsin brats rather than some of the local cheese.
You know those Swiss-French, all particular about their cheese. At least Grosjean offered his assessment of the dairy product Saturday with a smile because he hadn’t been in such a swell mood just a few minutes earlier.
A clutch issue delayed the participation of Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda early in the second round of NTT P1 Award qualifying, and Grosjean got only one timed lap during the session to show what he could do. In frustration in the pit box, he pounded the steering wheel to get going.
But Grosjean was proud of the lap that earned him the seventh starting position for Sunday’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR (noon ET, INDYCAR Radio Network; 12:30 p.m. NBC, Peacock Premium). He received a surprise after qualifying when INDYCAR officials dropped Colton Herta from fifth to 11th on the starting grid due to an engine change (unrepairable) after the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, promoting Grosjean to sixth on the starting grid.
“That was a hell of a lap,” he said. “Obviously, the tires were not quite up (to prime temperature). I tried everything I could, but I just missed (transferring to the Firestone Fast Six) by a tenth, which is very impressive.
“It’s a shame we had that (clutch) issue. We just need to make sure we understand it and we don’t get in the future. But seventh is a good place to start the race.”
Grosjean, who is competing at Road America for the second time, said his team lost its way in the weekend’s second practice, held Saturday morning. He and engineer Olivier Boisson turned to their teammates for help, copying one of their setups.
“We put it back together, and it worked well,” Grosjean said of the setup. “I’m really hopeful tomorrow we have a good race car.”
Grosjean will make his 21st start in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He has twice finished second – both last year – and he is ready to take the next step. After all, he last won a race in GP2 in 2011.
Grosjean said Road America, where he finished fifth last year for Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, would be a terrific place to score his first series victory as it reminds him so much of his favorite track, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
“Absolutely, yes,” he said of this being his favorite U.S. track. “I loved it last year.
“I love the fans – not so much the cheese – but I love the racetrack. Every time I come to Wisconsin, it’s sunny – today is a bit of a day off. I like being here, I love driving this place. It’s Spa-Francorchamps from the U.S. It’s the same feeling; it’s even the same track color.”
When NBC reporter Kevin Lee suggested Grosjean compromise on the cheese if he won Sunday’s race, the veteran driver deferred.
“Can I go for the brats?” he said. “They’re good.”
Ilott Endures Weekend’s First Incident
NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Callum Ilott saw his participation in the second round of qualifying end with his No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet sliding into the tire barrier at Turn 14.
The Englishman competing at Road America for the first time might have been able to continue with the session, but the penalty for drawing a stoppage in the action is the loss of the driver’s two fastest laps in the session. With less than six minutes remaining, going out with a potentially damaged car seemed pointless.
Thus, Ilott will start 12th, the third time in five tries this season he has reached the second round of qualifying. He was pleased with that.
“I just pushed like you would on an opening lap,” Ilott said on the INDYCAR Radio Network. “(The car’s) front didn’t respond, and I was a passenger. Maybe a bit silly for a first lap, but you’ve got to push it.”
Ilott was forced to sit out last weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix with a swollen left hand that was injured in a double-impact crash May 29 in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He said the hand wasn’t a factor in Saturday’s incident, but he appeared to be favoring his right hand this time. He said it was fine.
Day 2 More Challenging for De Silvestro
Simona De Silvestro’s second day back in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES didn’t go as well as Friday.
“I felt kind of OK yesterday, but definitely today when everyone kind of ups their game and changes things a little bit,” the driver of the No. 16 Paretta Autosport Chevrolet said.
De Silvestro is participating in her 70th career series race this weekend, but this is only her second since 2015. She and Beth Paretta’s team competed in last year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, finishing 31st. De Silvestro’s last series start on a permanent road course was in August 2013, and she last drove at Road America in 2009 while in Atlantics.
De Silvestro will start at the rear of Sunday’s 27-car field, and a pit road speed violation in qualifying didn’t help her cause.
“I think we can be quicker than a few cars in front of us, but I don’t know, we just don’t need to do mistakes,” she said. “We need to put in 55 laps and finish it. We’ll see. If we can get closer to where we want to go, I think that will be positive.”
Odds and Ends
- History suggests the top six qualifiers are in good shape for Sunday’s race. Twenty-six of the 32 race winners have come from the top six. Only once has the winner come from outside the top 10 – that was Alex Tagliani in 2004. He started 13th.
- Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Sonsio Team Penske Chevrolet) had a concerned moment in Turn 12 late in the second round of qualifying, and he nearly went completely off the track. NBC analyst Leigh Diffey suggested the slide in Canada Corner was reminiscent of how McLaughlin mastered his Australian V8 Supercars machine en route to three consecutive series championships. Responded McLaughlin, “That’s probably what the problem was.” He will start eighth Sunday.
- Another good quote Saturday came from six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winner James Hinchcliffe, now an NBC analyst. “This series is not about cars or engines or tires,” he said. “It’s about people.”
- Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) became the eighth driver in eight races this season to win the NTT P1 Award, a feat last achieved in 1961. Six drivers have won races.
- Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian) wasn’t pleased with qualifying fifth, later dropped to 11th due to a six-grid spot penalty for an engine change (unrepairable) after the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He said the team made the wrong choice on tires as he didn’t have the pace on blacks. “The car is really nice on reds,” he told the INDYCAR Radio Network.
- Sunday’s 55-lap race airs on NBC and Peacock Premium at 12:30 p.m. (ET). The INDYCAR Radio Network begins coverage at noon on its network affiliates, SiriusXM Channel 160, the INDYCAR Mobile App and racecontrol.indycar.com.
- Indy Lights will stage its 20-lap race Sunday at 10:40 a.m. (ET) on Indy Live! and Peacock Premium. Sting Ray Robb will start from the pole after leading Saturday’s qualifying session for the 13-car field. Andretti Autosport drivers swept the top four starting positions, with Robb followed by Hunter McElrea, Christian Rasmussen and Matthew Brabham. Series points leader Linus Lundqvist of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing, a four-race winner with an 84-point lead, qualified sixth.
- Louis Foster of Exclusive Autosport won Indy Pro 2000’s first race of the weekend Saturday. Race 2 is Sunday at 9:25 a.m. (ET). Foster has won the past three series races.
- USF2000 staged its two weekend races Saturday. Pabst Racing drivers Jace Denmark and Myles Rowe finished 1-2, respectively, in the first race. Michael d’Orlando of Cape Motorsports edged Rowe for the win in the second.