Losing win to VeeKay taught Grosjean “you have to push all the way” in IndyCar

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Romain Grosjean said losing victory to Rinus VeeKay taught him an important difference between IndyCar races and Formula 1 grands prix.

VeeKay came from seventh on the grid to beat pole-winner Grosjean to victory in Saturday’s Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Grosjean admitted his rival made better strategy choices during the race. But the Coyne/Rick Ware driver was pleased with his efforts after qualifying on pole position and taking second place in the race.

“We’ve had a strong car all weekend,” said Grosjean in the press conference following Saturday’s race. “We were leading the race quite easily in the first stint. We got a bit unlucky with traffic and back markers. I think that cost us a chance to go for the win, but also Rinus was quite fast on a different strategy. The right one, I guess.”

“But we’ve done great work,” he continued, “and sitting second in my third race starting in IndyCar, it’s pretty big. It is a tough championship. There’s super-good talent here, super-fast drivers.”

After taking his first pole position for 10 years, Grosjean capped off the weekend with his first single-seater podium since the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.

Grosjean led over half of yesterday’s race
“Yesterday I felt amazing in quali,” he said. “This morning in the warm-up we didn’t get quite it right and we made some changes for the race, and that worked well.”

He handled his first two-wide rolling start and restart as a race leader without difficulty, keeping his lead both times. “I think I did a pretty good job at the first rolling start leading the field, kept myself first through the first corner and then the restart felt a little bit more natural to me, so that was good, as well. And the car was very, very nice.”

Attacking IndyCar is a unique challenge for any driver, even one with 181 Formula 1 grand prix appearances under their belt. Grosjean said he’s learned a lot over the course of his first three races.

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“What I learned from Barber, race one, was that from lap one to lap 85 or 100, wherever we’re going, you need to push every lap,” he said.

“In Formula 1 normally you do the race start, you push a few laps and then things settle down and you manage the fuel and your tyres, you look at the gap. Whereas here, different strategy, yellows, pit closing and so on, there could always be someone coming a little bit out of the blue.”

Grosjean led much of the first half of the race before Veekay emerged as his main threat for victory.

“Rinus was super fast in pre-practice one as well as in the warm-up in the cooler conditions so I knew he was going to be good,” said Grosjean. “He didn’t quite make it to the Fast Six, meaning he had some more [softer] red tyres available for the race, and he started on black.

Romain Grosjean, Coyne/Rick Ware, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2021
“You need to push every lap”, Grosjean acknowledged
“When I was catching the slower car, he pitted early from the blacks and then got on reds and gets him freer, and I knew they were under different strategy, and it was going to be tough.”

Had the strategy worked out to Grosjean’s advantage, he could have become the first Dale Coyne Racing driver to win since Sebastien Bourdais on the streets of St Petersburg in 2018.

While Grosjean’s jostling with Takuma Sato at the end of his second stint played out visibly on camera, and struggles on the black-sidewall primary compound tyres eventually cost him the lead at the start of the third stint, ironically it was time spent behind Bourdais during the fourth and final stint of the race that sealed his second-place result.

“We were a little bit less competitive on the blacks today, and also on the last stint I got stuck behind Sebastien Bourdais, [who] is a super good driver. He was on a new tyre, I was on old reds and I couldn’t pass him for a long time until he actually locked up and went straight into turn one. I kind of killed my tyres and I could see Rinus about four, five seconds ahead and didn’t get a chance to come back to him.”

“So that’s what I learned, you just have to push all the way. Even when you have seven- or eight-second lead on the first stint doesn’t mean you’re going to win the race.”

Grosjean will now hand his car to Pietro Fittipaldi for the Indianapolis 500 before returning to the cockpit at the double-header Detroit Grand Prix on June 12th-13th.

“I still think there is a few areas we can work and improve,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to do. Obviously everyone is going to be busy the next two weeks for the 500, but it’s a great way to start the month of May for Dale Coyne Racing by RWR and a great way for me to give the car to Pietro Fittipaldi, the 51 car, and for him to have a good month of May.”

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RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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  • 17 comments on “Losing win to VeeKay taught Grosjean “you have to push all the way” in IndyCar”

    1. It is a tough championship. There’s super-good talent here, super-fast drivers.

      Yes, F3 and F2 are usually very competitive!
      I thought he knew that…

    2. Yes it was Bourdais who did for him, we didn’t see much of it but that was a big part of it. I prefer F1’s 3 blue flag rule, I think it gives a more genuine result. Otherwise back markers are just a random factor or jealousy or whatever but not pace or racecraft, who get left there to fake some excitement and make fake safety cars even more effective.

      1. @zann I can see it both ways. I think the approach IndyCar takes makes sense for IndyCar because it’s rooted in oval racing. The attitude that overtaking is a skill, and that working through backmarkers is a test of that skill, makes a lot of sense in oval racing, when the laps are so short and cautions are relatively frequent.

        The other thing I like about IndyCar’s approach is that the driver being lapped has incentive to stay on the lead lap in case a safety car comes out. If they’re down a lap, they don’t automatically get it back under yellow. That can arguably produce more genuine results than in F1, where lapped cars get their lap back for free.

        1. These are constants aren’t they @markzastrow: nobody wants to be lapped, but they all do get lapped – just either sooner or later. Then letting them unlap themselves under an SC is a separate decision. And yes I see what you mean about a test of skill but it’s so variable whether the other car makes it easy or hard and what tyres they’re on at the time, and so as we saw it can break up an on track battle that would have been great to see, and it just makes it a bit less likely that the result will be a true result showing who did it best.

      2. Otherwise back markers are just a random factor or jealousy or whatever but not pace or racecraft

        Like what’s already been said, the ability to cleanly make your way through traffic is a question of both pace and racecraft. In WEC and other multiclass series, it’s pretty much a required skillset.

        F1’s draconian blue flags rule are there simply because of how big the gap is between the top and the backmarker teams and how hard it is to overtake under modern F1 regulations. I understand that this is also a bit of a safety issue but I’ve always hated how this had the knock-on effect of making the smaller teams look more like grid fillers than genuine contenders.

        I don’t think that lapped cars should be allowed to defend their position but the way it’s done in modern F1, where sometimes the lapped cars have to proactively give way to the leaders, can be borderline coddling.
        Blue flags weren’t as bad back in the 80s and while it can sometimes lead to umm, unexpected results (Brands Hatch 1985 comes to mind), it’s one of the very few things I miss from that era.

        For what it’s worth though, I think VeeKay was on the better strategy and has enough pace on hand to win this race even if backmarkers weren’t an issue for Grosjean.

    3. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      16th May 2021, 14:59

      Quite upsetting to hear really (although nothing we didn’t know already) regarding F1 drivers not pushing all the way through a race. Like I say nothing we didn’t know already but it’s so disheartening to hear that Grosjean’s mentality was to push for the start then default is to go into strategy conservation mode and that is what F1 has become.

      1. Maybe that is what sets F1 apart. It’s not just about flat out, but must also be about resource management. Grosjean is happy because he is clearly better at one than the other (hence his lack of big success in F1).

        Taken to the ultimate extreme for circuit racing and you have Rally Cross. Maximum attack for the shortest race.

        Grosjean is in for a surprise should he deploy flat-out tactics at the oval. He’ll soon find that pace AND strategy, much like F1, will reap the biggest success.

        1. @psynrg I’m pretty sure Grosjean’s lack of success in F1 was down to bring in uncompetitive teams. The Hass was a piece of junk (still is).

          1. @homerlovesbeer Oh absolutely agree. You have ask why he ended up in that team…

            1. Davethechicken
              16th May 2021, 20:26

              Money is my guess. Why do you think Perez has enjoyed the long career he has? Talent or sponsorship?

        2. Well there is certainly lots of strategy in IndyCar. People cringe when drivers talk about making a “fuel number” like Rahal yesterday, but if you’re on a 2 stop strategy rather than a 3 stop, you have to go as hard as you can while conserving fuel.

          1. Graham made 4 stops total, on lap 2,3,30,58. I get the 1st stop to drop the black tyres under caution since the reds were clearly the one to be on but that lap 3 stop meant that the race restarted before he was able to catch the pack, was around 20 seconds behind on the road (not sure exactly, but that’s what it looked like from the track). It does make his result far more impressive though.

      2. Mixture of high-deg tyres sand long pit stops. If the pit stops were shorter, the value of new tyres might be worth it.

        But yeah, we all know it but it’s disheartening nonetheless.

    4. Well there is certainly lots of strategy in IndyCar. People cringe when drivers talk about making a “fuel number” like Rahal yesterday, but if you’re on a 2 stop strategy rather than a 3 stop, you have to go as hard as you can while conserving fuel.

      1. Don’t know why the above was duplicated.

    5. Ironically I felt Grosjean’s F1 conservation practice actually helped him a lot in the first stint. He managed to keep his reds going a lot longer than everyone else and was petty much the last to pit. I thought that put him in a really good place (baring yellows). I felt that his best chance for retaking the lead in the last stint were to hold off his pit stop further, but then you are exposed to the risk of a yellow, so it was pretty much settle for 2nd or gamble for 1st or last!

      1. Exposed risk of a yellow is always a concern in Indycar races, generally speaking if someone stops, everyone follows in just to prevent the risk of a yellow flag dropping them behind anyone who has pitted. Overcut/undercut tactics do happen but it’s not the primary concern on Road course races in Indycar.

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