INDIANAPOLIS — Romain Grosjean is five miles away from not being in orientation anymore. Jimmie Johnson is 10 laps away from that himself. But, in saying that, both are still technically eligible to compete in next May’s practice for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
How you may wonder?
See, three phases are needed to be complete to shed the distinction of being in Rookie Orientation. You need 10 laps between the range of 205-210 mph. Once you do that, the next step is 15 laps between 210-215 mph. Once you’ve graduated from each of those, all you need are 15 laps at 215 mph+ and you’re done.
Grosjean, was two laps shy and crossing the yard of bricks to be one lap away when rain started falling on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday afternoon. Johnson, was behind him a ways and had to crawl around the track before pulling into his pit.
In saying that, now what? There’s a test here on Friday with Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, can they join that?
It doesn’t sound like it’s in the cards. See, there’s a full field open test here next April. The 20th and 21st to be exact. Johnson and Grosjean can finish their runs then.
See, the first two phases are really the toughest to complete. The reason they’re able to join the field in April is because everyone is going to be traveling at speeds in excess of 215 mph. It’s not like Johnson and Grosjean are going to be moving chicanes.
So, they’ll have to wait before being officially initiated into the Indy 500 field, but it’s now more of a formality. It’s going to happen. The thing is, we know Grosjean will be here, but will Johnson?
He’s not made a full decision on that yet. He knows he’s doing all road and street courses again. In order for him to be in the Indy 500, he needed to take these steps first. If the comfort is there and he feels like he can compete, then a discussion will be had.
First was a test at Texas on Aug. 30. Next was Wednesday’s test. The next step after that…
The Indy 500.
“Yeah being here today is definitely a step closer in doing that,” Johnson told me. “First step was Texas. Then this step here today. I wish I could have run more laps and got into the faster phase of things and put the car on the edge. I’m still trying to find what it’s like living on the edge in one of these things. That’s what this journey has been.
“I’m absolutely closer. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to running the Indy 500. I still have a lot to work through. Family, sponsors, team. But it’s definitely a step closer.”
His family is way more open to him running. They all share the same views now on oval racing in the NTT IndyCar Series. The key to opening that door and Johnson running through these gates next May is comfort.
“You know, it’s — I hate that I’ve joked about it over the years that it’s my family, and they certainly do have a very big voice in all this, but my family is looking directly at me and my comfort,” said Johnson to me after his Texas test on if discussions with his family were the next step. “The INDYCAR that we have today versus where it was five years ago is just totally different from the aeroscreen and all the safety it brings in so many different ways, to the fact that we don’t have pack racing any longer.
“My journey and my comfort in this is really what my family is looking at, and I’m trying to be systematic and work through.
“But yes, there will be conversations, and I guess ultimately I’m trying not to say that it’s on my family and the pressure that comes with that. But it’s my journey and my wife and kids support me in whatever I want to do. Certainly they have their concerns, and their concerns are mine.
“I share the same concerns. I try to be very systematic and methodical and make sure that I’m in a standard — in a traditional box of risk in getting into a race car.
“We were all very comfortable with the risks associated to NASCAR, and through my experience this year in the INDYCAR Series, and certainly being in the car (at Texas), I feel that the INDYCAR is now back in that same box. There are inherent risks when you’re driving a race car, and I’m good with that, and I’m on this journey right now to prove to myself that the INDYCAR is back in that inherent box of danger of driving a race car.”
After talking with him on Wednesday, he gave me no inclinations that he won’t be here next April for the open test to finish this final phase off.
Grosjean though, well he was close. He looked comfortable from the get-go and if not for all the rain today, he would more than likely have easily skated his way through.
Johnson, got five laps in after a brief delay to dry the track this morning while Grosjean only got install laps before rain fell again. Then, at 3:05 p.m. ET, the track went green to finish the day. Unfortunately, it was an abbreviated session with more rain falling ending the day just short of the scheduled 6 p.m. ET checkered flag.
Still, both drivers are close and both had great days at the Speedway.