A fiery dance with mortality has brought former Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to a grand realization.
Two months removed from the stomach-turning crash and fire at the Bahrain Formula 1 race that served as a farewell to his grand prix career, the Frenchman’s taken stock of his life and decided fear will not govern his future.
“Well, if there’s one thing that my accident [taught] me is that I want to have the choice to decide what I want to do, and that life can be short,” said the new Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing NTT IndyCar Series driver.
“So I looked at all the options to championship and initially, am I going to go racing or not? And very quickly I wanted to go racing. I was still in pain and the healing in the hand was not good-looking, but I thought, ‘I love racing too much and I haven’t decided yet to stop. So I want to do more.’ And then I looked at the options and I said, ‘Which one do I feel like I want to do?’
“I said, ‘Which one is the one that I really want to do for fun, for pleasure, for what I love doing, for racing.’ And IndyCar was really on top of the list. I got in contact with Dale well before the accident and I was super happy with his welcome, with his enthusiasm of making the project happening. A lot of people after the accident said, ‘You should stop. You shouldn’t go racing.’ I’m going to go racing. I love racing and IndyCar is what I want to do, because I feel like they are top cars, amazing circuits, great drivers — (there’s) lot of things to learn from myself. I feel like this is going to be the right chapter for me.”
Having made his F1 debut in 2009, Grosjean delivered his best performances with the Lotus outfit in 2013; six podiums and seventh in the championship gave a proper account of his capabilities in a competitive team. Switching to the new Haas F1 program in 2016, Grosjean and teammate Kevin Magnussen were rarely matched with cars that offered opportunities to battle with F1’s powerhouse entrants.
In his move to IndyCar, Grosjean joins an operation that won as recently as 2018 with Sebastien Bourdais, but like his former Haas team, DCR with RWR is more often found midfield than vying for wins. It’s a bit of a lateral move in that regard for the 34-year-old, but he isn’t unfamiliar with the challenge of fighting with fewer resources.
“I’m going to be 35 by the time we are in the first race of the season; it’s actually my birthday on Saturday in Barber,” he said of the season-opening road course race in April. “And I’m a rookie, which is quite funny. I was told that Jimmie Johnson is a rookie as well and he’s 45, but that made me feel better. So I’m not the oldest rookie! That’s good. What I was looking for is somewhere where people really were enthusiastic, who wanted me and wanted the deal to happen. I’ve been watching a lot IndyCar, been watching on YouTube most of the last three seasons, the races and so on.
“With everyone I spoke with, I think Dale Coyne is the right choice. Yes, they’re a small team and but also the cars are pretty much similar apart from the dampers and which engine you run. But I’ve had a really good fit with Dale Coyne, with Olivier Boisson, the (race) engineer, who is also a Frenchman. For a rookie season to learn everything, I think it’s just the right option. So on that aspect, I’m super happy to be racing with them.”
Before signing with DCR with RWR, Grosjean sought advice from Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, as well as former F1 rival Marcus Ericsson, on the finer aspects of IndyCar. If there were any doubts of what he’ll find in a more level playing field, they were erased last weekend when he watched Magnussen make his IMSA debut in Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cadillac DPi.
Despite the differences between a DPi and an IndyCar, the parity on display in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is also found in the NTT IndyCar Series.
“Sure, and you’ve seen that Kevin did a mega job in the Rolex 24,” he said. “He was fast. He was consistent. He was doing the job. They were leading the race for a very long time, unless until the last puncture. But it showed that we’ve been pushing each other in Formula 1 a lot. We’ve helped each other to improve a lot, but people that are not in our world don’t quite understand how much a car does in Formula 1, and very easily.
“They just go and say, ‘Oh, you’re not good. You’re fighting at the back.’ Well, give me the same tool as the others and you’ll see. That’s something with Kevin, both of us, we really want it. And just saying, ‘Look IndyCar is not as fast as Formula 1.’ Maybe it is not, this is maybe a touch, less pushed to the limit and so on. Yeah, great. But what we want here is to go have a chance to win races, to fight, to have good racing and not to be lapped after 10 laps just because your car is a tractor.”
Catch the rest of the conversation with Grosjean below (or click here) on whether he sees IndyCar as a series to redeem his reputation after a rough spell with Haas F1, plans to bring his family to the U.S., preparing for his first IndyCar test later this month and the limited time left before Round 1 on April 18, and which track on his 13-race road and street course calendar sits atop his bucket list: