Romain Grosjean is happy again. He wasn’t last year. It was a two-fold prospect because of how he was feeling. He felt like early on in the season, he could come to Andretti Autosport and contend for wins and podiums. He didn’t. It affected his mood with the team and as a result, the finishes soured more and more.
3 top five finishes, seven top 10’s, three laps led. He did so in 17 races. A year prior, with Dale Coyne Racing, he had four top five finishes, six top 10’s and 53 laps led in four less tries.
“Last year joined a team to try to win races, score poles and win the championship,” Grosjean admitted on Saturday. “I was struggling with the balance. I just couldn’t get it to do what I wanted. Of course that plays a big role in your personality or the way you look. It’s always nice to be on pole. You smile.
“Yeah, what we do is a passion job, and at the end it has a big effect on the way we are. But no, there’s two personalities, there’s the driver and there’s the dad back home, and those two lives are kind of separated.”
Now so, he’s back to his happy place and the results are showing because of it. Grosjean secured his third career pole on Saturday afternoon at the Barber Motorsports Park.
“Yeah, it went really well,” Grosjean said. “This morning, Alex (Palou) was very fast, and I was actually having lunch with Michael (Andretti) and we didn’t think we would catch them. But then we started qually and the car felt amazing on the blacks and then got a bit of traffic on reds but then made it through, and then the Fast 12 got the fastest lap again.
“In the Fast Six, I think my first run should have been better. Made a mistake in 12 and 13. So ran again, and yeah, the car was good.
“I think we’ve shown that we’ve got a very strong baseline, very strong package this year on street course and road course, and oval is getting good, as well.
“I think we definitely found something at the end of last year, winter testing, and yeah, I just knew today that we had the car to fight for pole.
“I think as a driver, you feel it very quickly. If you can drive the car fast, even if you make small mistakes, the lap time is still there, so you kind of know if you put it all together, it’s going to be good. Yes, we’ve got good momentum, we’ve got a good group of people, so it’s a car that they — I’ve got all the strengths of the car I loved in ’21 with all the strengths of the car I loved in ’22, and we’ve kind of put it together and that’s worked well for us.”
The thing is, he’s 0-for-2 in regards to victories in those other two tries. Also, we’ve seen just 5 pole winners win at Barber and only 3 in the last 20 INDYCAR races overall.
However, he finished runner-up on the IMS road course in 2021 and 18th on the streets of St. Pete in this year’s season opener. At St. Pete, he led 31 of 71 laps that day and if not for a late race incident on Lap 71 of 100 on those Florida streets with Scott McLaughlin while battling for the lead, maybe he’d have a won by now.
Instead, he’s 0-for-33. He does have four runner-up finishes and a pair of Top-10 results in two Barber starts in this career. He also crashed while running in the top five with two laps remaining in Texas and was runner-up the last time out in Long Beach.
If Grosjean is going to win, it’s going to be now. He said he can finish the job on Sunday so long as no one crashes into him during the race. Even if he doesn’t win though, he’s content with a strong showing. That’s because he’s after the bigger picture.
“I think we want to be a championship contender at the end of the year, so we used two mulligans in the season, so we’ve got to be here every race,” he says.
“We’ve shown that the pace is there, which helps a lot to be at the front, but 100 percent want to score some points and finish the race. If it’s first, second, third, fourth, fifth, we don’t know, but what we know is we need to keep scoring points and be consistent for the championship.”
Still, he improved quite a bit from Friday in a practice session that saw his engine expire. However, his teammates gave him great feedback which helped him improved from sixth on Saturday morning and a pole a few hours later.
“Honda has done a very good job, especially after yesterday where we had the engine rolling off in practice, so we lost all of practice one, which was not ideal,” Grosjean admitted. “But luckily I’ve got very good teammates, and I could rely on them to kind of go over my setup, and Olivier made a few changes between practice two and qually, and that worked well.
“Yeah, happy for the team, happy for the result, and looking forward to the race.”
In terms of the start of the race, Grosjean says he doesn’t know the plan yet. It depends on how the car feels early and what the track is like after overnight rain.
“The good news is that I’ve been racing Alex for a while, and it’s been always clean and nice with him,” he says of the start with Palou. “There’s definitely drivers that you’re a bit more careful with, but with Alex, I think it’s a good front row. Again, it’s a Honda-powered front row, so that’s a very good job.
“Tomorrow, like I say, turning the wheel here for 90 laps is a challenge, so it’s not all about the first 10 laps.”
The third-year driver says that he has no contract in place for next season still but hopes he can rattle off result after result to show the team he’s deserving of a second contract.
“But yes, my contract runs out at the end of the year, so you want to do a good job. But also I think what we’ve seen this year is the fruit of what we did last year, and it wasn’t the season that we were expecting, but we all worked hard and got it together. The team made a lot of changes, I think, in the winter.
“From as far as I could tell, it was a huge difference, and also I think myself, I looked at myself and tried to understand what I could do better, and I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.”