Why Grosjean chose “sexiness” of IndyCar over Formula E and endurance racing

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Asked yesterday why he chose IndyCar for his return to racing in 2021 over other series such as Formula E, Romain Grosjean began his answer with a single word:

“Sexiness.”

Still recovering from the burns he suffered in his horrific crash on the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix 67 days ago, Grosjean says he selected IndyCar to continue his life after F1 because it fired his passion for racing.

“After the accident, there’s one thing I realise in life,” he says. “It’s [you] have the choice to say no or yes.

“I think IndyCar is a top series, top drivers, top cars, super-exciting to drive. Yesterday Will Power posted on Twitter a nice video from the helmet, testing in Sebring. Hearing the sound of the engine and watching the onboard, I just took the clip, sent it to my wife and said ‘This is why I do it’.

Grosjean sees endurance racing as a “mid-term” career option
“I felt like this is what I want to do. This is what I want to race. It looks mega. Let’s do it.”

Sports cars were another possibility for Grosjean. But that is something he wishes to pursue later in his career.

“Endurance is a mid-term thing that I’m looking for when I’m too old for single seater,” he explains. “Right now I felt like I was ready to take the challenge, I wanted to do it.”

Long before his crash in Bahrain it became clear Grosjean was not going to continue with Haas in Formula 1 for another season. Haas was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequently replaced its two experienced drivers with a pair of rookies, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, both of which promise to be financially beneficial to the team.

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Grosjean got in touch with his new IndyCar team boss Dale Coyne in October prior to the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. He sounded out those he knew in the series, notably fellow F1 refugee Marcus Ericsson, who went State-side in 2019. He’s also on good terms with a pair of Indianapolis 500 champions, Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi.

Marcus Ericsson, Ganassi, IndyCar, Sebring, 2021
Ericsson and others moved to IndyCar after F1
“Simon Pagenaud and Marcus Ericsson were very helpful in asking questions, basically what HANS device to use to what are the good teams, what do you think, how do you deal with your hotels,” Grosjean explained. “They’ve been great help in that aspect.”

Grosjean admitted he had “a few options on the table” for 2021 “but I felt like the one that I wanted to do was IndyCar.”

He began binge-watching recent IndyCar races on YouTube – he estimates he’s already logged 18-and-a-half hours. Having spent much of the last seven years driving cars which often weren’t points contenders, let alone in the hunt for podiums and wins, the prospect of being nearer the front of the field again clearly appeals to him.

“The excitement comes in the fact that in Formula 1, after turn one, you normally know what’s going to be the race result. Just because you know the pace of the car, Mercedes is going to pull away, maybe the Red Bull is going to be there. Some things can change, but nowhere as much in IndyCar.

Sebastien Bourdais, Coyne, Mid-Ohio, 2018
Bourdais charged through the field at Mid-Ohio in 2018
“Mid-Ohio 2018 I watched recently. Sebastien Bourdais had an issue in qualifying and started back of the field. He came back like a bullet from the gun and finished sixth just behind Scott Dixon.

“The race was not over: The strategy was the alternative one, he started on the black tyre, went for the reds, just came back from the back. That’s not something you’re going to see in Formula 1 unless Mercedes qualify in the back, which never really happens. That was great to see.

“Most of the races between the cautions, the pit stops, the refuelling and so on, there are always options for strategy. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t really go your way. That’s really something I have appreciated about it. The fact that it’s never over. You may run into trouble with fuel, you may not. You may have tyres going away. Because the cars are quite close in performance, the field is never really spread. That’s cool to see.”

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Despite the horror of his crash in Bahrain, it’s clear Grosjean has no qualms about trading some of Formula 1’s more antiseptic circuits for IndyCar’s raw venues with limited run-off and barriers close by the track’s edge. “The circuits look amazing,” he says, “just the old style that I really like.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti, IndyCar testing, Laguna Seca, 2019
Vertiginous Laguna Seca appeals to Grosjean
“When you look at Road America, Mid-Ohio, the street courses, Laguna Seca, they’re part of the circuits that I used to play video games on 20 years ago.”

But he will steer clear of IndyCar’s most dangerous circuits – the ovals, where average lap speeds can exceed 370kph (230mph) – for the time being. His 2021 roster includes the 13 road and street course tracks but not the four oval rounds. He doesn’t want to put his family through the terror of fearing for his life again.

Having had plenty of run-ins with the stewards during his time as a Formula 1 driver, Grosjean is also hoping IndyCar’s officiating will prove more lenient. In particular, he was “surprised” to discover IndyCar’s rules on blue flags are much less strict than F1’s.

“You don’t need to let [the leader] by when there’s a blue flag. Many times I got penalties in Formula 1 because I didn’t respect the blue flags. You have five corners to let the car by, whilst in IndyCar you can just keep racing. It’s information, it’s not so much mandatory. There’s a few things that I just need to get used to that are quite different.”

“There’s lots to learn from a rolling starts to doing the pit stop to learning the car,” he adds. “I’m ready to tackle the challenge. I think it’s the right one.”

Pato O'Ward, McLaren SP, IndyCar, St Petersburg, 2020
IndyCar’s close racing is key to its appeal
The single biggest difference between Formula 1 cars and IndyCars is the latter are built to a single specification – aerodynamic development is not allowed. Therefore the American cars are also designed to be able to run together much more closely.

“This is something I’m very, very much looking forward to,” says Grosjean. “The way you can follow the car in front of you, the way you can slide the tyres, the way you can either try to play with your ‘push to pass’, the fact that the cars in qualifying are within six-tenths of each other. This is all really exciting.

“You need to get the details right and so on. You don’t have the differential you can move, you don’t have the [energy] recovery and all the shaping and the braking, the systems you can have in Formula 1.

“Yes, the car is a little bit slower, but the racing looks much better from everything I’ve been seeing. In that respect I’m super-excited about it.”

For the time being Grosjean intends to remain based in Switzerland and commute to the races. Having enthusiastically taken up simracing in recent months, he is already practicing for his IndyCar debut on iRacing.

The late confirmation of his departure from Formula 1 meant a top IndyCar seat at the likes of Penske, Ganassi or Andretti was not an option. Nonetheless Coyne has won races as recently as 2018 and Grosjean, who aside from his 2012 Race of Champions win hasn’t stood on the top step of a podium since clinching the GP2 title a decade ago, is relishing the thought of being a contender again.

“I know if you compare maybe the Penske or Team Ganassi, Dale Coyne Racing is a small team,” he says. Again, it doesn’t mean that you cannot compete at the front.

Alex Palou, IndyCar, Coyne, Road America, 2020
Third for Palou at Road America was Coyne’s best finish in 2020
“I think I need to learn how IndyCar works. We need to learn to work together. I’m not going into race one thinking ‘I’ve done 10 years in Formula 1, I’m going to win that easy’. No, I need to learn. Drivers there have been running for many years, they’re very competitive.

“But the cars are pretty much the same, apart from the dampers. It’s up to setting it up and getting the right relationship with the engineer and driving it.

“I think we can be competitive. I am not coming just to be entering IndyCar. That is definitely not my option. But also I’m entering knowing that I’ve got many things to learn. Let’s see where that brings us. We’re ready to tackle the challenge and to learn as fast as we can.

“But as I say, I’ve been watching many races. The team has done very well last year with some rookies, so I’m hopeful that we can repeat that or even top up a little bit.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 23 comments on “Why Grosjean chose “sexiness” of IndyCar over Formula E and endurance racing”

    1. The best thing is to see how enthusiastic he is about the change, and about the chance to really compete. Much like Magnussen was (obviously) thrilled to get going in Daytona. And he showed us why already. I do hope that Romain can show us some more of his best, because it is really fun watching.

      1. Nicely said

        Maybe the hand injuries are better than we know and for his desire to race is stronger than ever for this chance to prove his passion is worthwhile.

        Give them hell with your smile

      2. Exactly! And I’m sure he wants to « do a Bourdais » and win a strategy-dominated race.

        All the reasons Grosjean has pronounced in this article are why I love Indycar for 20+ years.
        And I’ve got to add that Ericsson is such a nice bloke.

      3. Mind you, it is a bit odd that he should be dismissing the WEC when he was quite happy to race there a decade ago – age wasn’t any consideration for him then.

    2. Haas was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequently replaced its two experienced drivers with a pair of rookies, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, both of which promise to be financially beneficial to the team.

      That is giving too much credit (little blame) to the drivers who simply did not deliver, and selling Schumacher’s short.

      Otherwise a great article about Grosjean.

      1. @coldfly considering Magnussen’s ranking in the site, it’s expected.

        They both should’ve been replaced long ago. Very average drivers bumping into each other for 2 years… The fact they were replaced by Schumacher and Mazepin for financial reasons is a completely different discussion.

        1. Grosjean crashed way more than average, he alone cost haas millions in crash damage. That is money better spent on developing the car instead of replacing old parts.

    3. Stephen Higgins
      4th February 2021, 9:29

      Will Romain get much testing before the start of the IndyCar season ?

    4. Yeah, why would any driver choose Indycar over Formula E? All that Formula E had was future (whatever that means for the current drivers), but even that seems to be fading.

      1. “current drivers” … good one 😉

        1. Wait… what series does Power race in?

      2. The cars are really slow, sound terrible and they race in car parks basically. What is Formula E’s prestige race? There is none.

        Seems like a no brainer, for him or any F1 driver. Go to IndyCar and do some real racing with a real chance to win. I can’t imagine he’ll pass on the biggest race in the world after his first season.

      3. Sorry to say this but the Indycar challenge or the skillsets required are significantly more difficult than the electric series. I can’t imagine any top level driver would consider E racing unless it’s the only option left for a particular career. Cant think of any E racer getting a ride back in F1 WEC or INDYCAR as of this morning.
        So being excited about getting a seat in the E series is the right way to act and respect towards a new ride. But it seems to be more of an expectation hence the excitement instead of the reality check of this series will become the end of your career. Example: Nelson Piquet Jr. son of the highly overlooked three times World Champion Nelson Piquet Sr. Love the fact that the old man just wanted to race cars and could care less about the media and would instead prank them or play head games with the press. I think he was so smart to keep distance between racing drivers and the relentless fever of the media. Smart way to break the pressure of the media’s expectations. Be a pain in the ass and they are less inclined to ever ask questions. Behind all of this crap was a really great driver who mentored under Niki while at Brabham. Juniors rise to stardom sort of passed him by. Eventually in F1 he chose to play games with the team in Singapore and soon after was racing trucks in American ovals. Then a short stint in the primitive Two race car E series and when that dried up so did his story.
        The glory of success in E racing is to be admired. For the most they know this series is the end of their careers.
        So the excitement of being an E racer is just part of ones career. Not the high point either for most.

        1. STEVENHOLMES, when you say that you “can’t think of any E racer getting a ride back in F1, WEC or INDYCAR as of this morning” – can I ask how familiar you actually are with the driver line ups of some of those series?

          For a start, Sebastiam Buemi has been racing in both Formula E and the World Endurance Championship for Toyota since 2012, and is due to be racing for them again in 2021. You could also add to that list Jean-Éric Vergne, Sam Bird and Nyck de Vries as other active drivers in the World Endurance Championship, whilst Alexander Sims is currently driving in the United Sportscar Championship (the equivalent series that operates in the USA).

          If you also look at the list of those drivers who have had part time careers in sportscar racing, there are plenty who have combined occasional appearances in the WEC with racing in Formula E too, such as António Félix da Costa, Alex Lynn, Norman Nato, Oliver Rowland, Tom Blomqvist…

          Point being, there are, in fact, multiple drivers in Formula E who are either active drivers in the World Endurance Championship or have driven in that series within the past couple of years, showing there are multiple teams in the WEC who are quite happy hiring Formula E drivers.

    5. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      4th February 2021, 12:17

      Hope to see K-Mag in the Ganassi car in ’22 if not maybe in the month of May. Also good use of the word ‘vertiginous’

    6. So Romain was tempted by F1’s loud and sexy American cousin, but completely overlooked the nerdy city-breaks hipster of Formula E? or the sensible “country walks and a good book” stability of Endurance Racing? So shallow Romain! :-)

    7. Dale chose romain out of “crashyness”. Good for the sponsors.

    8. I’m happy for him, good move. And I can say I felt the same way as him when I said the helmet cam on Sebring; the car looks less refined, Sebring is bumpier, amazing layout, the noise of the engine, everything looks more alive. I believe in essence the fact that everything looks less sanitized than F1 helps too. I’ve been watching on F1 channel all the races since 1981 , I’ve reached season 1995, and the most noticeable aspect is how the tracks were much more varied then and with much more soul than any of the tracks on F1 today. No silliness as track limits, on onboards cameras the cars were much harder to control on braking points due to bumpiness of some tracks, no parking lots at that time, nor ultra smooth tracks with 25 meter wide off camber corners. I have to say that that video from helmet cam on Sebring reminded me of the same rawness from F1 from 80s and 90s, which is really nice. I understand F1 needed to compromise a lot due to safety, which is commendable, but unfortunately a lot of F1 soul is probably lost for good because of that.

    9. Weren’t F1’s blue flags just information in past also? Didn’t the rule to let the faster car go by when shown a blue flag start in the late 90s?
      I seem to remember Jacques Villeneuve complaining about slow cars blocking and then the rule change came about… (and a few years later, Villeneuve was the one being shown blue flags.)

    10. That’s quite a good argument by grosjean on the excitement of Indycar… makes f1 look stale a bit

    11. If you see what other Indy drivers says that have driven all sorts of cars including F1 I think he is at the right place when it comes to pure drivers excitement. Though he will have to train his forearms during the winter :). The bumpy tracks in combination with no powersteering is a massive step from the smooth F1 driving, seems pretty brutal in the indy cars.

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