Spend too many seasons stuck in an uncompetitive situation, and most athletes will begin to doubt their abilities. Romain Grosjean found that uncomfortable place a few years ago as his Haas Formula 1 team explored new and inventive ways to plummet in the championship pecking order.
Grosjean wasn’t blameless, of course; more than a few untimely driving errors ruined his chances. But whether it was actions within the team or in the cockpit, a miserable environment was produced that ensured joyful driving and meaningful results were a fantasy.
Looking like he was freed from a leash, the old Grosjean was on display this weekend at the GMR Grand Prix. Racing to pole position and leading 44 of 85 laps served as a reminder of how drivers — even those who’ve lost all hope that such things were possible — can be rewarded if they’re willing to stand on faith.
Grosjean might not have held on to win at the Indianapolis road course, but he sure looked like someone who rediscovered so much of what had been missing for nearly a decade.
“Well, it feels like the good old days when I enjoyed winning races,” he told RACER after finishing second to Rinus Veekay. “In Formula 1, when you don’t have a good car, it beats you up a bit and yes, you lose a bit of self-confidence. You don’t know if it’s you or if it’s the car, and sometimes you ask yourself, but it was good people around me to remind me what I was capable of. I came here as a challenge in IndyCar, and also, every decision means it’s a risk. But I came in and I say, ‘Look, I want to see what I’m capable of doing. I think I still got it. I can do good.’
“Yeah, this weekend has been gaining proof that they were right. Barber already gave me really good confidence. St. Pete was a touch less competitive. But this weekend, we were definitely on it.”
Here it is 🏆! .@RGrosjean way to bring 2nd place home 👏👏 @DaleCoyneRacing @NurtecODT (rimegepant) @TeamNurtecODT (rimegepant) @SmartSanitizer @Jacob_Companies @MindMazeTech @HondaRacing_HPD @IMS @IndyCar pic.twitter.com/WVh15SbacF
— Rick Ware Racing (@RickWareRacing) May 15, 2021
Grosjean offered the perfect summary of his rookie campaign in the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda — it’s the ‘Proving I’ve Still Got It’ tour, which has far exceeded even the most ambitious expectations after three races.
He’ll fall back to earth after skipping the double-points Indy 500, but at the moment, Grosjean holds P15 in the championship, right behind full-timer Alexander Rossi, who’s done all five races, and one spot ahead of friend and countryman Sebastien Bourdais.
“Formula 1 has been an incredible part of my life, and I don’t regret any of it,” he continued. “But obviously, to the end decided to stop because I wanted to fight for wins. I knew they were an option that we could be competitive and fighting for good position here, and that’s what was the motivation I had. After being 10 years in Formula 1, it was easy for people to say, ‘Oh, this is a bad driver.’ But I’m here and I’m enjoying my time, and I’m doing the best I can. This weekend, we’ve shown that the team knows what to do with a good car, and I know to drive it.”
On the team side, Grosjean nailed the rolling start and the restart after receiving some coaching from Dale Coyne, and on the timing stand, his race engineer, Olivier Boisson, demonstrated his talent once more as the No. 51 Honda was never lower than P7 in any session at the GMR GP.
“He is definitely a super good engineer,” Grosjean said of the Frenchman. “This weekend he’s proven it to me. We were struggling a bit with the balance before qualifying and he sorted it out for quali. In the morning warmup, we weren’t quite competitive, and I gave him the keys (to fix) the setup. He made some changes and gave me a brilliant car. You could see real fast we were running free and the first stint we pulled a big gap with the guy behind, so not sure how good the car was.
“After the warm-up, I said, ‘Look, you know it — you know what we need to do. You do it and I’ll drive it. And I did. Yes, we wanted more today, and I think it was possible. But again, on our third race in IndyCar, we’re fighting for win and on the podium. That’s brilliant.”