LONG BEACH, Calif — Romain Grosjean knows the feeling. He has the date locked into his brain. It’s been a long 3,908 days since he last visited victory lane in a race where the celebration was for him. That came in F2. Grosjean, nearly ended that drought in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
He finished runner-up to Josef Newgarden in Sunday’s thrilling race. It was his fourth career NTT INDYCAR Series podium. He had 1 in his last 7 years in F1.
However, a couple of different factors played into his second runner-up in 16 series races. The first came in qualifying on Saturday. Grosjean, made the Fast Six and was sitting in second coming to the closing minutes but he found the tire barriers with two seconds remaining. As a result, you lose your top two laps and with this session only being 6 minutes in length, that wiped out his times.
He’d now start sixth as a result.
“We had a small issue on Friday sadly so we lost Friday as a session on my side, so it’s never ideal, and I think looking at the race maybe, there’s stuff we would have done slightly differently, but yes, I think we had the right strategy. We had a good pit stop from the guys, good communication, and then a P2, so that’s pretty good.
“The car is straightforward to drive. There’s one thing I need to improve to make it a touch more to my liking, but I think we’ve got a very strong baseline and a car that can go super fast. It was my fault, just didn’t qualify well. If I had started P2 today, things would have been a little bit easier.”
That’s why he says he was in a race of his own. He used a lot of push to passes early to not get too far behind. They then went off strategy from everyone else in using the Firestone alternates on Lap 56. Everyone else had the primaries to the end.
With the short burst of speed, Grosjean capitalized. On Lap 70, he passed Alex Palou for second and was right on Josef Newgarden’s tail for the lead and his first win in over a decade well in sights.
Unfortunately, the reds fell off and a caution fell on Lap 75. It set up a five lap shootout, but with Red tires compared to Newgarden’s blacks as well as no push to passes left, he was just maintaining at that point.
“You know, you don’t have that much option when you’re on fresh tires or red versus black on a street course,” Grosjean said. “You know it’s going to equalize itself after a while. As I said, the first one on Alex, and he defended really well on the inside, braked super late, and I think that one — if I could have pulled that one out, then I would have been fine to get Josef on the next lap. But I did not, so by the time I got to Josef I didn’t have much Push-to-Pass left and he had a really good straight-line speed, so it was just hard to get him.
“I think Josef had it. I was looking at Turn 11, the hairpin, making a last-lap lunge maybe if I was close enough, but I don’t think I was close enough on that lap and Josef was driving well and not making any mistakes. It’s not ideal to finish under yellow, but I don’t think the result would have been much different.”
Now, it’s to Barber where he feels quite comfortable on. Then, we go to Indy, a place he won the pole and finished second at last year.
Grosjean, is a legit title contender if he can have a solid Indy 500 a little over a month for now. He says that being smarter is the main difference in last year and this one.
“This year definitely I know I have to drive a little bit differently,” he said. “I’m trying to go for the championship, and I cannot just go flat out all the time. Like in St. Pete in the race I was struggling a little bit with my front tent, so I kind of took it carefully. Today here I knew I wanted to go long on the first red, so I was driving around that, but then the car was good and gave me confidence. I still believe there’s a couple of things we can do better, but yes, I just think that last year I was unlucky sometime. I was on for a really good one in Nashville, just the amount of yellow flags we had killed me.
“We were on for a very good one in Detroit and then I had contact with Pagenaud that punctured my tire. That doesn’t really happen often.
“Then St. Pete was a bit of a hard one, was my first one. As I say, Long Beach was my fault.”