Romain Grosjean Will Power Scott McLaughlin

"It hurts."

That’s how Romain Grosjean summarized a fifth runner-up result in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after being on the wrong end of a spirited late battle with race winner Scott McLaughlin in the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix on Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park.

The intensity started from the drop of the green flag for the Swiss-born Frenchman, who started on pole and was immediately under fire but held off attacks by Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou.

There was a split between the field on two- and three-stop strategies, with Grosjean opting for the former. However, the limited trips to pit lane also thrust him into hitting a fuel number, while the likes of rival McLaughlin, who was doing the opposite, had to throttle to maximum pace to make up the time difference for the extra stop.

When the caution came out on Lap 39 of 90, it played into the hands of McLaughlin, who was able to dive to pit road for service and come out in second, directly behind Grosjean’s No. 28 Delaware Life/DHL Honda. From there, the two remained tangled for the top spot around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course.

Following their respective final pit stops (Lap 60, Grosjean; Lap 63, McLaughlin), the two went wheel-to-wheel in a fight for the lead and made contact before Grosjean pulled off the pass in the final corner on Lap 65.

“We kissed each other a touch,” said Grosjean, smiling over the pass.

It was short-lived, though, as the No. 3 Good Ranchers Team Penske Chevrolet returned the move in Turn 5 on Lap 71 and never looked back. Despite coming under pressure from defending series champion Will Power in the final laps, Grosjean was able to hold on comfortably to finish second.

“The beauty of INDYCAR is the track evolves a lot during the race,” Grosjean said. “You never really know what the grip is. Scott saw I wanted to go on the inside in (Turns) 15, 16. He closed the door. I thought my only option is to go on the outside, roll some speed, see if the grip is there. The grip was there. I managed to get side by side in the apex.

“Same thing with Turn 5. The grip came on the very outside of the end of the race for some reason. It's the beauty of it. You have to adapt a lot during the race, your driving style.

“Those races are tough. They're very tough (and) demanding. That's the way it goes. I was hoping for grip, and I got the grip.”

In terms of the strategy, Grosjean executed the two-stopper to perfection. He ended up nearly a full 19 seconds ahead of the next driver on that same strategy, fourth-place finisher O’Ward in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.

Grosjean was greeted by strategist and Andretti Autosport boss Michael Andretti, who refused to see him sulk after that type of performance.

“When your team boss comes to see you and says that's probably the best drive he's seen in INDYCAR, he's been around for a long time, Michael, you take that as a win.

“Very proud of my engineer, my mechanics. We made P1, so we beat them on the back foot and got them with pole. We had a fast car today. With the fuel number we had to hit doing the lap times we were doing, pretty amazing. I'm really happy with that. I saw Will coming, but I knew it would be at the end of his red tire (alternate compound) life. When he was in dirty air, it would be hard for him. Try not to make any mistakes and keep enough fuel for the last two laps.”

The fuel was so close, in fact, that Grosjean’s challenger ran out during the cool-down lap after the race.

“Yeah, almost made it to the pit, missed by 150 meters,” said Grosjean, who led a race-high 57 laps.

After four rounds, Grosjean sits fifth in the championship standings, 15 points behind leader Marcus Ericsson. And while he takes solace in continuing to think about the Astor Challenge Cup, he is starving to get that elusive first INDYCAR SERIES win, and he’s putting aim at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since tomorrow officially begins the Month of May.

The GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course was the site of Grosjean’s first-ever runner-up in 2021, which was his third career start after departing Formula One. Additionally, though, he has eyes on ending the drought in the best way possible at the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 28.

“You know what, you need to do everything perfect to win,” Grosjean said. “Today we didn't have the right strategy. It is what it is. Control what you can control. That's what we did.

“We executed very well this weekend. We had a fast car. Got pole. Twenty seconds ahead of the two-stoppers on the race finish. That shows how fast we were. We just didn't have the right strategy today, so...

“I'd say we were not too bad. Put me P5 in the championship. Big picture, yes, I wanted to win today, it hurts to not do it. We have a lot more occasions. If I can win Indy and the ‘500,’ it would be good.”