Romain Grosjean gave every indication Sunday that Andretti Autosport teammate Kyle Kirkwood deserved to win the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. But there also was a sense of pride in Grosjean’s voice after he did what was best for Michael Andretti’s organization.
“I didn’t try to attack, I didn’t try to go for Kyle, I didn’t try to go for the win,” Grosjean said moments after finishing second, .9907 of a second behind Kirkwood. “We tried to stay out of trouble, and we did what we had to do.”
Grosjean finished second in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race for the fourth time in his career, and the pursuit of his first series win certainly burns within him. But sometimes situations dictate a different play, and that’s what the driver who for years competed in the me-first European side of the sport did on this day.
Grosjean knew the race was Kirkwood’s to lose after the final exchange of pit stops. Kirkwood had stayed on the track one lap longer than Grosjean and used the lack of traffic in front of him to deliver a fast lap in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda. The difference between the two drivers was clear as Kirkwood merged into the action several hundred yards ahead of all challengers and got his tires up to speed quickly enough.
Grosjean said Kirkwood had the option to be the last Andretti Autosport driver to pit because he was the race leader.
“It’s normal – he was the leader,” Grosjean said of the team’s process. “We had to cover Josef Newgarden. We did that well.”
From there, it was smooth sailing for Kirkwood, who won three junior categories leading up to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Meanwhile, Grosjean managed his remaining fuel the best he could and drove his No. 27 DHL Honda quick enough to keep others, like the charging Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing, behind. Ericsson finished 1.0681 seconds behind Grosjean in third place in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“I think protecting the team was the smart thing to do,” Grosjean said. “We finished first and second, (and that’s) more important than anything for us. I wish (the order) was the other way around, but Kyle deserved it this week.”
The only thing Grosjean regretted was not being able to use more of his push-to-pass activations. He had more than 150 of the allowable 200 seconds left at the end of the race, but he was restricted from using more due to his car being low on fuel. Using those activations guzzles more fuel.
Kirkwood won his first INDYCAR SERIES race in his 20th start over two seasons. Grosjean now has 33 starts without scoring a victory, although this podium finish was his fifth since coming to the U.S. to race at the start of the 2021 season.
Grosjean has had a pair of second-place finishes on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, where the GMR Grand Prix will be held Saturday, May 13. He also finished second in Long Beach last year, and he finished third at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna at the end of the 2021 season.
This finish arguably was timely for Grosjean, who didn’t get the result he seemed to deserve in either of the season’s first two races.
Grosjean was battling Scott McLaughlin for the lead late in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg only to take contact from the Team Penske driver as they approached Turn 4. Both cars ended up in the tire barrier and out of the race, and Grosjean beat his fists against the tires in frustration. Then, in the PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, Grosjean’s strong race – he led laps in the late going – ended against the Turn 2 wall following light contact with David Malukas’ left-rear tire.
To show for having a pair of fast cars, Grosjean finished 18th and 14th, respectively, and it was a similar tale across the Andretti Autosport stable, where the four drivers came to Long Beach with an average finish of 18.6.
With Colton Herta finishing fourth in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, the team owner said this Long Beach finish was an important rebound for everyone involved.
“We started out the year with really fast cars but not getting results,” Michael Andretti said. “It’s nice to finally get the results that we did. One-two-four is not a bad day.
“This is really going to help rolling into Indy in a couple of races. This always puts an extra bounce in everybody’s step. We’re very excited about the rest of the year.”
Said Grosjean: “I think it was important score some good points today and finish a race. We've got good confidence in the car. I've got a good car. Obviously, St. Pete, yeah, should have been mine, but. … sometimes it doesn't happen the way it should be. It's OK, we move on.”