As far as IndyCar seasons go, 2022 was one to forget for Romain Grosjean.
After registering an impressive series debut the year before with Dale Coyne Racing, switching to Andretti Autosport came with lofty expectations as the Swiss-born Frenchman became the new steward of the championship- and Indianapolis 500-winning No. 28 Honda.
A run to fifth place at Round 1 in St. Petersburg and a podium at Round 3 in Long Beach sent all the right signals about where the new union was headed, but Grosjean and the Andretti team were about to step onto a rollercoaster for those 14 remaining races where rising and plummeting fortunes became the norm.
Left in an unsatisfying 13th in the championship, Grosjean and his trusted engineer Olivier Boisson closed the season in a state of frustration. At Coyne, Grosjean piloted a car with handling characteristics that had years of development by Boisson and other engineers which happened to fit his handling needs.
But as things work while joining a bigger and more accomplished team, the arrival of Grosjean and Boisson didn’t mean the No. 28 Honda would receive all of the chassis setting and damper builds that worked to great effect at Coyne. Quite the opposite, actually.
The two were tasked with adapting to Andretti Autosport’s well-established approach to engineering its cars, and just we saw last season with Jack Harvey’s move from Meyer Shank Racing to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Simon Pagenaud’s move from Team Penske to MSR, getting to grips with your new team’s engineering philosophies can take time. And just as Harvey and Pagenaud rarely felt like they were fully connected to their cars and experiencing the kind of handling they needed to run at the front, Grosjean often went through a similar process – one of learning and adapting – that came with a lot of struggles and mistakes along the way.
It’s no different from what we see in the NFL when a star quarterback struggles when a new offensive coordinator is hired and brings in a radically different scheme than the one he knew and flourished within.
Entering their second year within Andretti’s engineering scheme, the 36-year-old says an off-season of hard introspection has found the positives to build upon and the glaring deficiencies to erase. If they’ve made the right calls, 2023 should produce all that 2022 was meant to offer.
“We look back all together, but also all individually,” Grosjean told RACER. “I think there were a lot of things we could have done better. It starts with me, the driver. How can I improve? Then we look at the engineers, pitstops, strategy. You name it.
“I think it was actually positive for us here because I’ve seen a lot of changes that the team has made, seen a lot of different approaches for this year, which I’m excited about.
“But I also think everyone is always excited when you get to January before the season. ‘Yeah, we’ve made a lot of progress … it’s going to be great,’ and saying things like that. But from what I’ve seen, I’m quite confident that we’ve moved in the right direction. I think with Olivier it took a little bit longer than we hoped for last year to get acquainted with the car, but we got things more figured out later in the year.”
Grosjean highlighted a few events where the No. 28 Honda was speaking to him in ways that allowed him to get the most out of the car, and as a result, those events have been used as engineering springboards for the new season.
“The only three times that I felt that we had a really good package for what I like was Iowa Speedway for the ovals, Nashville for the street courses, and Laguna Seca for the road courses,” he explained. “We chose three races to develop from because we know exactly what we changed in the car, what I liked, and what I didn’t like from before.
“That’s definitely something that we learned last year on what was good and bad for me and what I could deal with and what I could not deal with. Those three places that I mentioned, the car was talking to me and we were up there.
“I think generally as a team we lacked a bit of pace, but now we have at least a very good baseline to start with a car that talks to me and responds to me. So that’s why I think we’re in a much better situation than we were last year. But you know, we still need to go onto the track where it tells you if it’s true or not.”
Along with his full-time IndyCar duties, Grosjean was recently signed by Lamborghini as a factory driver for its upcoming IMSA GTP/WEC LMDh program in 2024. Making his formal debut last weekend with the Iron Lynx Lamborghini GT team in a Huracan GT3, he and his teammates placed fourth in the GTD Pro class and he’ll make more endurance appearances ahead of helping the Italian supercar company to develop its new prototype when it breaks cover later in the year.
“Definitely we enjoyed it a lot and it’s very special to represent Lamborghini,” he said. “It’s an honor for me. And I think Lamborghini is very happy also to have me on board; it’s a very cool relationship.
“With GTP, it is a very sexy time with all the constructors coming in, but it’s a big challenge. We’re going to be fighting some incredible brands. From the time the IndyCar season finishes to the end of the year, we’ll have a lot of development to do on the car here in the States. So that’s gonna be exciting, that’s gonna give me a lot of driving time, which is awesome.
“And then I love the fact that I can combine IndyCar, which is the route of what I’m doing since many years in single-seaters, on your own pure performance, versus also having the fun of sharing the sports car with teammates and sharing the experience together.”
With his 37th birthday looming in April, Grosjean’s arrived at an interesting place in life. With his family’s move to Florida and their full engagement in American living, IndyCar is no longer an experiment with a potential expiration date.
“I’m gonna turn 37 this year, but honestly, I don’t feel at all like 37; I feel like I’m 25, apart from a few back issues,” he said with a laugh. “I love IndyCar. I love life in the US. I love the racing in the US. I really love the IndyCar Series and its racing, and I loved doing my first IMSA race at Daytona. I just want to be here.
“I love competing. I think I started my career pretty late compared to other drivers, and I believe we all have like an energy inside us, like a battery, that we can use to a certain point, but because I started later than some of my competitors, I feel like I’ve got plenty of energy left in my career. I want to race at the highest level, and the day where my energy starts going down and I feel like I’m not going racing to kick everyone’s ass, that’s when I’m going to put my helmet on the shelf and do something else. But this is a long time away for me.”