The three highly-touted rookies in the NTT IndyCar field all had decent performances in the Honda Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday.
Both Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson were making their IndyCar debuts, while it was just the second career start for Scott McLaughlin.
Grosjean, a longtime Formula 1 veteran, finished 10th in his Dale Coyne Honda, while seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson overcame a spin to run all day and take 19th in the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. McLaughlin, a three-time V-8 Supercars champion, wound up 14th on the lead lap in his Penske Chevy
“Very happy to have finished,” Johnson told NBC. “There were two pretty scary moments in the race. One heading going into Turn 5 at the original start, there was chaos and I bounced off a few cars but nothing really happened [to damage my car] evidently, so that was very fortunate.
“Then I spun in traffic following someone up over the hill into Turn 13, and unfortunately, I lost a lap at that point. Just a ton of learning experience throughout the day and just very thankful for this opportunity that Chip’s given me.”
The 45-year-old stock car legend was also pleased with his physical shape following the 90-lap grind with no power steering.
“I’m not bad,” he said. “My left hand is about to blister. All in all, I could have gone a few more laps, I wasn’t totally taxed. The training worked out well, so I’ll heal up and be ready for St Pete.”
“I’m just happy for Alex (Palou, the winner). To be that young and have all that talent, and for the opportunity I’ve been given with Chip. I like that kid a lot, even though he reminded me I was older than his father.”
Early in his first race, rookie @JimmieJohnson spins at @BarberMotorPark.
Watch LIVE on @nbc.#INDYCAR // #HIGPA pic.twitter.com/aypw3sTLnV
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) April 18, 2021
Grosjean’s first IndyCar race was a triumph in every way. He started seventh and came home with a Top 10.
“It was my first race and my first top 10 finish, so we can be very happy with that,” said the 35-year-old Frenchman who struggled with uncompetitive equipment during his final years of F1. “We fought at the front for some time, and we did our best. We learned a lot today, and overall, we can be very proud of our weekend.”
Asked about his first flying start, Grosjean replied: “The rolling start wasn’t pretty! I got caught a little bit, but I just need to get used to it. It’s not easy. You have to get the right timing, but it was fun. Now we move on to St. Pete where we’ll try to do better.”
McLaughlin was a little disappointed with his first race but realistic at the same time.
“I got held up mid-race because I didn’t know the capacity of the car but I wanted to get one race under my belt, so I did a reasonable job.”