Romain Grosjean’s great American racing adventure is getting more real every day.
Grosjean, the long-time Formula 1 veteran who is taking on a new career challenge in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, says that his learning curve has given him a chance to already cross one U.S. road circuit off his bucket list. That happened at a recent test at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.
“I mean, it was definitely one of the circuits on my bucket list to drive one day,” Grosjean said. “I was a little bit like a child when I arrived there. Obviously, the first lap in the car, it was very special. The corkscrew is a great feeling.
“Actually once you get the left part of the corkscrew, you are OK-ish. It’s just straight down where you don’t see where it goes. A bit of a gentle on throttle there, then pin it down to go towards turn nine. But definitely a really good track.”
Grosjean, who raced the past five years with the Haas F1 Team in Formula 1, is driving the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda in IndyCar.
“Everything is going well,” Grosjean said. “I think obviously the first test is getting in the car, seeing how it works. The second test was starting to get more performance out of the car, trying to find a way that you need to drive to go fast, which is actually quite different from Formula 1. It was interesting.
“We made some good progress in Laguna Seca. I wasn’t too unhappy with the lap times and the potential we had in the car. I feel like we’ve made some good steps. We have one more day of testing in Sebring before the first two races of the year. Obviously that’s going to be quite important, as well.”
Grosjean is driving the road courses and street circuits this season. Pietro Fittipaldi, a reserve driver with Haas F1 this year, is driving the No. 51 for the ovals. Two two are paired with full-time driver Ed Jones.
Grosjean said that learning the tracks is one thing. It’s another to race with and against a different cast of characters on race day.
“I think it’s a great series where you’ve got top drivers, top level, top races,” Grosjean said. “You get a chance to pretty much have the same tools as your friends, competitors.
“Formula 1 is wonderful. It’s great. But, I mean, I’m putting money on the fact that Lewis (Hamilton) is going to be eight-time world champion this year. I’ve really enjoyed my time there. I’ve had a great career. But also I was at the end of what I wanted to do there. Fighting with Haas to be out of (first qualifying) when everything was fantastic is something that I had had enough. It was no real fun.”
So far, IndyCar is bringing the fun back to racing for the 34-year-old Grosjean. It’s all about having a chance to compete, a chance to win, again.
“In IndyCar, I think everyone has got the same car, dampers, you can work on, they make a huge difference,” Grosjean said. “Obviously if we compare Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, Penske and Ganassi, we have less resources, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do a good job and set up the car to our liking and go for it. I think that’s what really attracts people, is that it’s top series, top cars, top drivers, and the driver can actually make the difference.
“The last time I got really the chance to have the same tool as the other was 2011 in GP2. I was close to win a few times in Formula 1, but I was also in the era with (Kimi) Raikkonen and (Sebastian) Vettel who dominate everything. I was close few times, but not on an every-race basis.”
Jones, who was without a ride in 2020, returns to the IndyCar series this year. And despite being just 26 years old, he comes to the track as the most experienced IndyCar driver on the team.
“Although Romain is a rookie in IndyCar, he probably has just as much experience in motor racing as some of the best guys out there,” Jones said. “He got up to speed very quickly. He’ll be right there. Pietro has done some oval racing in the past. I’m happy to help out where I can. But these guys are no slouches. I’m sure they’ll be right there from the beginning.”
Grosjean, meanwhile, is taking it all in as he prepares for the opening of the IndyCar season in April.
“I need to remind myself I’m a rookie,” Grosjean said. “Even though I got 20 years experience in racing, I’m a rookie. From the rolling start to the refueling to the racetracks, there’s many, many things to learn.
“We will take step by step.”
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