After runner-up in Long Beach, is Grosjean a championship contender? My thoughts

Romain Grosjean was bridesmaid once again. This was the fourth time in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career that he’s been runner-up including two of which here now and two on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

While he was bummed to not have won, he was still happy to give Andretti a 1-2.

Michael Andretti could be more thrilled with Grosjean by not over pushing it and to settling for that fifth podium in 33 starts. Grosjean says that it was a product of circumstances too. He knew with where they pit for the final time, pushing wasn’t going to be permitted since they had to save just enough fuel to get to the end. Same for his first stint. With where the second caution flew, it made the second stint one of fuel saving to get enough laps to have the next stop be the last one.

“First thing we’ve got to say is congratulations to the whole team, first, second, fourth,” Grosjean said. “It’s been awesome, a good weekend. Kyle (Kirkwood) has done an amazing job in qualifying and again in the race. I mean, he didn’t make any mistake in front of me. Couldn’t use any of that.

“We had a great strategy, did a very good job. Had a very fast car. Because the way the race turn up, I have to save a lot of fuel on the last stint. I had 188 second of push to pass left, but I was not allowed to use it. For once I saved too much, I guess.

“It sucks. I just wanted to push the button and I wasn’t allowed to.

“Yeah, it was tough. Then Marcus (Ericsson) was driving fast at the end of the race. I think, yeah, we did a tremendous job. Honda did amazing, as well. One, two, three, four, five. We have to note that. Bits and piece, we’re getting there.

“I would lie if I said I wouldn’t have loved to be on the top step of the podium today, and I thought I had a chance. Just the way the race turned out, the fuel situation was, it wasn’t possible.

“As a team, I think it’s very good where we are. The team has been working super hard through the winter to improve our pit stops. I believe in Texas I had the fastest pit stop of everyone. Here again we had fast pit stop.

“We knew that in lap and out lap were going to be critical. I was hoping that I was going to be the one going a lap longer than everyone else, but it was Kyle at the end. It’s normal, he was the leader. We had to cover Josef Newgarden. We did that well.

“Yeah, as I said, the fuel situation was not easy to manage through the end of the race. Created a lot of issues with brakes getting too cool, tires losing temperature. We had good cars and managed to get 1-2.”

Romain Grosjean at the 2023 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

That’s why Grosjean was never able to push the issue at Kirkwood for the win, but bigger picture was on his mind. Grosjean has a legitimate shot at a potential championship caliber of a season. While he entered this weekend 15th in points, he leaves in 7th (-39).

You also have to look at how good of a car he’s had this season. He was in the mix to win all three races thus far. He led 31 laps in St. Pete and cycled to the lead after the final pit stop sequence. However, Scott McLaughlin exited pit lane and fought back which unfortunately took both out on Lap 71 of 100 in the tire barriers.

In the next race at Texas, he crashed while running in the top five with two laps left.

Now, he has a finish to back up the speed.

“It’s better than finishing third two years in a row, I guess,” Grosjean joked about finishing runner-up twice here in as many years.

“You know what? I did not even want to try to go for the win today. It would have been taking too much risk. Kyle drove a brilliant weekend. He had the best strategy out there, but he was on pole.

“He was fast. He didn’t make any mistake. He drove well. He deserved the race.

“For me, it was more like after the two first races, kind of was mine, but it’s okay, I give it to you. You got it anyway (smiling).

“I think we’re strong everywhere. Today the race car wasn’t the best ever. I think we’re going to learn a few things and move forward. Generally we have a very fast car. Two weeks ago in Texas Motor Speedway, also showed I could do ovals.

“I think 2022 was definitely a very hard season. I couldn’t get the car to do what I wanted it to do. I couldn’t find the feel.

“I’ve been racing for 25 years. I still doubt myself sometimes. I believe I’m one of the best in the world, but sometimes I still think do I still have it, do I still know how to drive.

“That’s why some people are so important for me. That’s why Texas being in front was important. Like today, finishing second is important. I still know how to do it. I’ll be 37 tomorrow. I wish I win for my birthday, but P2, I take it.

“Yeah, when we speak in Laguna Seca, I want to be with those guys fighting for the championship, and I think we get a chance to do that.”

Next up is Barber. He has two top 10 finishes in as many tries including a seventh place run a year ago. Then it’s to the IMS road course to which he has two runner-up’s and a pole. A double points Indy 500 race then another street course after that has Grosjean in a position to be in the championship conversation again.

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