Romain Grosjean, Coyne/Rick Ware, Gateway, IndyCar, 2021

Grosjean looking forward to being ‘a proper rookie’ in IndyCar oval debut


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After Romain Grosjean finished second at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the second time this season, the thoughts of those who have been following the latest Formula 1-to-IndyCar rookie sensation drifted towards this weekend’s round at Gateway Motorsports Park, where Grosjean will make his oval racing debut.

“Next week I’m a rookie, a proper rookie,” Grosjean said of the new challenge that lies ahead of him on Saturday. “I’ve been named a rookie all year long. I don’t feel like one. Next week I am one. I just want to gradually go for it, improve myself, [and] learn about it.”

Grosjean originally committed to doing only the road and street course events when he officially signed for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing in February. But as early as March, he admitted there was a ‘high chance’ he would run the 500 kilometre race at Gateway. Grosjean took to the 2.012 kilometre oval for the first time last month, taking part in an official test in preparation for this weekend’s race.

“There was so much to learn. It’s so different from every type of racing I’ve done before,” Grosjean remarked on his maiden oval test.

“It’s a weird one. The car drives itself. People are telling you that’ll be fine, and you’re like, ‘what are they talking about, I drive my car!’ On the ovals I think the car does the work, and you control the speed, and it’s quite a bit of a strange feeling,” he added.

“I think it’s just going to be a great experience. I want to see how it’s going, everyone seems to be enjoying ovals there. I still prefer road courses, but I like braking late. I’m looking forward to it and seeing what we can get out of it.”

Of the small selection of ovals left on this year’s IndyCar calendar, Gateway would have been by far the lowest-risk choice for Grosjean to tackle this specific IndyCar discipline for the first time – something that was certainly on the mind of him and his family when Grosjean decided to come to IndyCar, just months after his horrific crash in last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix. His wife, Marion, and his three children went with him to Gateway for the July test, which helped put their minds at ease about seeing him tackle an oval for the first time.

Average speeds around Gateway top out at around 290kph and the banking does not exceed 11 degrees through turns one and two. It is also a more relaxed setting for a driver to make their first oval start than the Indianapolis 500.

With his family’s approval, Grosjean will be on the entry list for Saturday’s race aboard his number 51 Coyne/RWR Dallara-Honda, while his usual substitute Pietro Fittipaldi will move over to the number 52 car after replacing Grosjean at Texas and at the Indy 500.

Back in July after the first test, Grosjean said, “Everyone who thinks it’s easy to run ovals is absolutely mistaken. It is tough and requires a different feeling, but I must say I’m enjoying it. I’m looking forward to discovering more.”

“The racing is going to be the very exciting part. Every time you go into a corner, it’s a high-speed corner, and it’s fun, but it keeps the adrenaline going.”

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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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18 comments on “Grosjean looking forward to being ‘a proper rookie’ in IndyCar oval debut”

  1. I could understand why his family didn’t like racing on ovals. I hope everyone could show how Grosjean can be safe as possible and the rescue crews are very professinals and almost direct with the cars.

  2. Grosjean on an oval??? Now has anyone really thought this through?!

    1. None of us.

    2. He will draw on his ‘experience’…

      1. If by that you mean the experience from nearly 179 starts in F1, 10 F1 podiums, and two podiums (plus a pole) in his rookie Indycar season.

        Yeah, he’s going to do fine. He’s one of the most experienced drivers in the world that’s younger than the age of 40.

        Can’t wait to see the race. Indycar has been a banger this season. I hope this oval race is more exciting than the two at Texas earlier in the year.

        1. With the current car and the aero package they are all forced run….the racing will be just..fine
          The DW12 is not an oval car. The Gforce/Lola/Reynards from 20 years ago still hold up.

          I’ve indulged myself on this break this year with the IRL from -96 to 2002 (so far) and while some of the drivers and the teams participating are somewhat, ahem…. questionable, you cant deny the cars and their ability to run close and fast.
          I Think the overall speed record from 1996 still stands today .

    3. You going to see Romain is going to be a weapon on ovals.

    4. Yeah this is quite worrisome. Even if removes his desperate moves, it might go the other way where he is too careful. The spatial ability is still going to be lacking.

  3. This will be interesting. He’ll do fine.

  4. Oval racing is BORING. Jimmie Johnson might actually do well which is what Indy car is hoping for. Just look at the carnage when NASCAR tried to race on the road course at Indy. Their only skill is to take very wide left turns on banked courses. Would love to see NASCAR in Baku.

    1. Averaging laps at 230 mph wheel to wheel at Indy or Texas is boring!?! You’ve obviously never watched, or understood the strategies of oval racing. St. Louis has had some terrific races. Maybe you should watch?

      1. Not my cup of tea. I find drag racing boring too. That is wheel to wheel at 300 mph.

    2. I challenge you to give a sim a few hours on an oval and come back and say its boring.

      …you won’t.

  5. On the ovals I think the car does the work, and you control the speed, and it’s quite a bit of a strange feeling,” he added.

    Honestly, this has me worried for him that he thinks this. It’s not that the car does the work, it is that the driver inputs are so much smaller and precise in Indycar on ovals because a little input has a very big impact.

    When he is in a full pack and not at a practice session I hope he doesn’t have any sudden blocking moves like he had shown in his F1 years, because that will end in disaster.

    1. @g-funk
      No doubt he’s referring to how the (properly set up) oval car handles.
      The stagger allows the driver to just relax the steering wheel and the car turns in to the corner.

      Opposite to a road car, where more steering effort is required to turn.
      Relax the wheel and the car goes straight.

      1. @clayt Having the stagger steer the car to the left when you relax the steering wheel isn’t the same as “The car drives itself. People are telling you that’ll be fine, and you’re like, ‘what are they talking about, I drive my car!” Stagger only turns the car to the left. It does not drive it strait on the straits. It does not deal with changing track conditions that move the racing line up or down the banking. It does not deal with traffic.

        I’d be happy if he was just talking about having stagger ease the left turns, but it really doesn’t sound like it from those quotes.

  6. It is good to see Romain doing so well in Indycar, clearly he has more talent than I gave him credit for when he was in F1. Nice to see a former F1 driver get a second life after F1 and show what he can really do in more equal cars. F1 can often chew talented drivers up and spit them out!

  7. At 2.012 km a lap and speeds upwards of 180 mph, gives lap times of around 20+ seconds. I sure hope the car drives itself. Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.
    A pit-stop will put you a lap down, that is until everyone else stops too. Imparts a new wrinkle on strategy.
    Should be fun to watch.

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