Romain Grosjean said on Saturday that while he wanted to get his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES win out of the way, he was also good with thinking big picture too.
“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 said on Saturday after scoring his third career pole.
“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, when you lead the most laps (57 of 90) and not win in the end, it’s most certainly dejecting. Grosjean did everything right. There was nothing he could have done differently.
When you start on the pole, you have to go on the two-stop strategy. This race has never gone caution free and with that being the preferred strategy, it’s hard to plan for the unexpected. So, off Grosjean went. He led the first 30 laps before hitting pit lane for the first time.
The lead came back to him when the Penske duo of Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin pit on back-to-back laps from 37-38. The problem is, the lone caution fell for Sting Ray Robb stalling in Turn 9 on Lap 39. While Grosjean was in first, by McLaughlin pitting before the caution came out, he ended up back one spot behind Grosjean in second.
The strategy play swapped in favor of the three stoppers now.
Grosjean would hold off McLaughlin on the restart and remain in the lead for the 21 laps stint before he hit pit lane for his final time on Lap 60. McLaughlin pit three laps later. While McLaughlin was out front when exiting pit lane, Grosjean got by him on the final turn of the out lap.
However, Grosjean had no Push to Passes left. He was a lame duck and lost the lead on Lap 71 to him in Turn 5. His race winning chances were essentially over at this point forward. Now, he had to hold off a hard charging Will Power instead.
Power went from 10 seconds out to Grosjean’s tail in the end but Grosjean was able to hold him off for his fifth runner-up finish in 34 starts. Unfortunately, he’s winless in those 34 starts too and 0-for-3 when starting on the pole.
“You know what, you need to do everything perfect to win,” Grosjean said. “Today we didn’t have the right strategy. It is what it is. Control what you can control. That’s what we did.
“We executed very well this weekend. We had a fast car. Got pole. 20 seconds ahead of the two stoppers on the race finish. That shows how fast we were. We just didn’t have the right strategy today, so…
“I’d say we were not too bad. Put me P4 in the championship. Big picture, yes I wanted to win today, it hurts to not do it. We have a lot more occasions. If I can win Indy and the 500, it would be good.
“I think when your team boss comes to see you and says that’s probably the best drive he’s seen in INDYCAR, he’s been around for a long time, Michael, you take that as a win.
“Very proud of my engineer, my mechanics. We made P1, so we beat them on the back foot and got them with pole. We had a fast car today. With the fuel number we had to hit doing the lap times we were doing, pretty amazing. I’m really happy with that.
“I saw Will coming, but I knew it would be at the end of his red tire life. When he was in dirty air, it would be hard for him. Try not to make any mistakes and keep enough fuel for the last two laps.”
Still, running like this will make the win come soon enough. He led 31 of 71 laps in the season opener at St. Pete 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, he would have won that day.
Texas he crashed while running inside the top five with two laps remaining. Long Beach and now Barber, he finished runner-up in both.
Up next is the IMS road course to where he finished runner-up in both races in 2021. That was with Dale Coyne Racing. Can he recapture that magic with his second go around with Andretti?
So far, he has this season as a whole which has made him much more happier in the car.
3 top five finishes, seven top 10’s, three laps led last year. 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.
“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.”
Now so, he’s back to his happy place and the results are showing because of it. He comes to Indy just 15 points out of the lead in fifth.
“It’s done today, so on to the next one, Indy GP. I was fast in ’21. Last year was a bit more difficult,” he says.
“The two races we finished this year twice second. We’re knocking on the door, and eventually the door will open. So I am not too worried. As Will said, it’s super competitive, it’s tough. We have to push every single lap hard. Yeah, today they did a better job on the strategy.”