Romain Grosjean

It is very early days, but there is a belief the resurgence shown by Andretti Autosport at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding is here to stay for the 2023 season.

There is no denying the finishes for the team in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opener on March 5 were frustrating, with none of its four cars finishing in the top 10. Grosjean was taken out in a crash with Scott McLaughlin while dueling for the lead late in the race. However, there were flashes of improved pace in the practice sessions, which elevated to a staggering showing in qualifying.

Romain Grosjean earned the NTT P1 Award with a performance on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit that was dominant, pushing the No. 28 DHL Honda to a lap that was .4155 of a second quicker than the closest competitor, teammate Colton Herta. The front row lockout by Andretti Autosport was complimented with Kyle Kirkwood making his first-ever Firestone Fast Six in his debut with the squad.

The outing showcased the effort put in by the organization since the end of last season, when Andretti Autosport amassed two wins with no driver placed higher than ninth in the championship standings. This is Grosjean’s second season with Andretti Autosport, but it was the first time he had a proper offseason with the team to witness – and have a hand in – areas of growth.

“I think at least after St. Pete that's one we can assess on street course,” said Grosjean, 36. “We have to see on ovals and road courses. But yes, there's been a lot of remodeling inside the team, in terms of departments and just the way we operate. I think on the driver's side, too, or at least personally, I looked at myself and said: 'OK, what can I improve from a disappointed 2022? What can we get together?’”

The two days of testing last month at The Thermal Club were when Grosjean noticed a dramatic difference with his car and team.

“I knew that we had something that was a lot better than we had last year,” he said. “I felt better in the car. I felt like the guys worked really hard on the pit stops, worked really hard within the internal department – the engineers, mechanics, cars and people around – just to optimize where we're at. So, if you look at everyone, it's most of the same people, but it's just been fine-tuned. I would say that last year we had all the pieces of the puzzle, but this year we put them together.”

After a partial campaign in 2021 with Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing, there were lofty expectations for Grosjean moving to Andretti Autosport and expanding to full time last year. The highlight of the 17 rounds was a second-place finish in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, but there were also 10 finishes outside the top 10, including lowly result of 31st in his Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge debut. He ended up 13th in the overall standings.

So, what was the biggest issue for the Swiss-born Frenchman last year?

“I was struggling a little bit last year with the car not talking to me,” said Grosjean, a three-time runner-up in INDYCAR.

“And then in Nashville we made a step in the right direction, in Iowa we did another one, and then in Laguna we did another one. So, street course, oval, road course, and we kept working around that this winter. And when we got to Thermal and Sebring, we did back-to-back tests with what we had last year and what we came up for this year, and I'm like, 'Yeah, it's just night and day for me.' We have a baseline setup that we know works, and I think the good thing, as well, is that we've got the four cars running pretty much the same setup. So, that helps, as well as a team to try things, work things and have common feedback.”

Grosjean, who made 180 starts during his Formula One career, recognizes street circuits as a track discipline on which the team should excel, but one of the major remaining question marks comes in the next round, the PPG 375 on April 1-2 on the Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“I think last year we were lacking a little bit,” he said, “so Texas is going to be good feedback for us on how things are going and have we improved or not.”

Although Grosjean is searching for his maiden win in North America’s premier open-wheel championship, he is still regarded as a title contender for the Astor Challenge Cup. With that, though, he admitted that one can’t come without the other if he wants to be in championship contention come September.

“Finish races, to start,” he said. “The hardest part in racing to get is the competitiveness and the speed. I feel like this year we do have that. Running for a championship, it's something I've done in the past, and I know it works. Winning races, same thing. Obviously, race one of the season was different from the others, but yeah, we kind of used a joker on Sunday.

“We didn't finish, so now we have to finish races, and we have to try to be competitive every weekend. A bad weekend should be a weekend that you are top eight, and that's how you win the championship.”