INDIANAPOLIS — Romain Grosjean said that he felt alive again on Friday following his first career NTT IndyCar Series pole. He did so at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway no less. Grosjean, is still beaming with joy leaving the GMR Grand Prix on Saturday, but also frustrated in a sense too.
It’s a feeling that he’s not had in a while. The joys of looking forward to coming to work again. Friday was his first pole in over a decade. He said that he’s not felt this happy in coming to a race track since 2013.
The Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing driver led a race-high 44 of 85 laps but it was getting caught up in lapped traffic to what kept him from the top step of the podium from Indy on Saturday.
Grosjean, had some battles with lapped cars following his second stop on Lap 43. It wasn’t a clean in and out lap and he was frustrated by that.
“Blue flags,” he joked if looking back on the race if he’d have done anything differently. “Honestly, that’s the only thing we could have done differently today. We can gain a couple of seconds on pit stops and so on. Still feel like we can improve a bit there. But today we were leading the pack by a good margin, meaning I was going to be the first one to hit traffic, and we hit it quite hard.
“Really having that was the only thing that I would have changed today, putting away cars that were lapped cars out of my way.
“I think every series is different, and you’ve got blue flags issued everywhere. In Formula 1 I was shown the blue flags quite a bit over the last few years and it was terrible for us. The leader complained that it wasn’t good enough.
“Here today obviously I wish it was on more often because I was the guy that was chasing them, but it’s the rule that INDYCAR uses. Is there room for improvement? Probably. Is there a perfect solution? No. But definitively I think traffic cost us the win today.”
Grosjean, went with a different strategy than most of the rest of the cars in the field. He started on the Firestone Alternate tires and instead of going to the Blacks following his first stop to pit road, he went with Reds again. Most of the other drivers on Saturday went with the opposite tire compound between the start and first pit stop. Grosjean was one of three that didn’t.
So, he had to go on the primary tires after his second stop, then with being marred in traffic and Rinus VeeKay coming, it was all over from there. VeeKay, got by and Grosjean was in a fight to just hang onto second.
VeeKay, started off on the primaries, so he could go with the alternates the rest of the way. That was the winning difference other than lapped traffic.
“Yeah, I wasn’t well aware of where he was. I think he still came out with a good lead and also I was behind two cars leaving the pit lane back markers,” Grosjean said. “So it was a tough day in terms of overtaking people. I know it’s a really good track with a really good straight line, but when the lap cars are using their Push-to-Pass, it’s hard to get by, and then obviously you’re going to push harder on your tires and get a bit of a harder time, and you just can’t really do the pace you want.
“I knew Rinus was on the last — before the last pit stop, he passed me; I was on black, he was on red. I asked the team is he on the same strategy, and they told me yes, and therefore I knew I had to kind of try to stay close on the blacks from him, but couldn’t quite do it.
“On the last stint, as I said, I was stuck behind the No. 14, which was going fast, but too fast for me to pass him and just too slow to catch Rinus, so a bit in between.”
Still, Grosjean is beaming with pride to score a podium on Saturday and happy that he’s this close to a victory this early in his INDYCAR career.
“The whole atmosphere between the drivers, we’re here with Alex and we’re joking and having fun, it is super competitive on track, but as soon as you remove your helmet, there is like a good friendship between the drivers, which you surprisingly don’t find anywhere else,” he said. “I love that part, and I’m having a blast of a time.”
As to what he’s learned thus far in his brief INDYCAR career?
“So what I learned from Barber Race 1 was that from lap 1 to lap 85 or 100, wherever we’re going, you need to push every lap,’ he said. “In Formula 1 normally you do the race start, you push a few laps and then things settle down and you manage the fuel and your tires, you look at the gap; whereas here, different strategy, yellows, pit closing and so on, there could always be someone coming a little bit out of the blue.
“Rinus was super fast in pre-practice 1 as well as in the warmup in the cooler conditions. So I knew he was going to be good. He didn’t quite make it to Fast Six, meaning he had some more red tires available for the race, and he started on black. Yeah, I guess when I was catching the slower car, he pitted early from the blacks and then got on reds and gets him freer, and yeah, I knew they were under different strategy, and it was going to be tough.
“We were a little bit less competitive on the blacks today, and also on the last stint I got stuck behind Sebastien Bourdais, which is a super good driver. He was on a new tire, I was on old reds and I couldn’t pass him for a long time until he actually locked up and went straight into Turn 1. I kind of killed my tires and I could see Rinus about four, five seconds ahead and didn’t get a chance to come back to him.
“So yeah, I mean, that’s what I learned, you just have to push all the way. Even when you have seven- or eight-second lead on the first stint doesn’t mean you’re going to win the race.”
Now that he does have a podium in just his third start, Grosjean said that it’s not about the comparison between F1 and INDYCAR.
“I don’t think I need to prove to anyone what I can do,” he said. “If somebody doubt that, well, they should look a little bit of my career and what I’ve done and what I could even do in the last few years with the car under my hands. So it’s more for me to enjoy racing as I love it and to, yeah, fight for good position with people that are passionate about it, into a great atmosphere, but also very professional.
“I’m here for myself. I knew it was going to be a challenging year for my family with me being away quite a bit and traveling, and with the time difference not being able to talk to them as much as I would love to, but they can also see how happy I am, how much I’m enjoying the moment, and the fans are giving me back also so much through social media, through the grandstands today, the fans cheering for me. It’s just incredible to live, and I’m very grateful.”