Grosjean: “Everyone who thinks oval racing is easy is wrong”

Romain Grosjean says his first IndyCar test on an oval was “very interesting” and he’s looking forward to his oval debut next month.

Grosjean is set to make his oval race debut in the 13th round of the 16-race 2021 NTT IndyCar Series on Aug. 21, having foregone Texas Motor Speedway’s double-header and the Indianapolis 500.

On Tuesday at the 1.25-mile egg-shaped World Wide Technology Raceway, where he’ll be part of a three-car Dale Coyne Racing entry next month, Grosjean turned 166 laps, survived a spin without hitting anything, and finished the day eighth fastest.

“I kept it in one piece on the track, which is good!” the ex-Formula 1 driver told Motorsport.com. “Obviously I have a lot to learn, because it’s different from anything I’ve done before, that’s for sure.

“Everyone who thinks oval racing is easy is quite wrong. It is complicated and there’s a lot you can do with the car. I was one of the first ones to think, ‘At ovals you just turn left and it’s flat [on the throttle] through the corner.’ But obviously at Gateway it’s not flat in the corner. There’s a lot you need to do.

“But it’s very interesting in how the setup should be. They all say the car should be driving itself, and you think, ‘What are you talking about?!’ – I’ve never done that in my life! But by the end of the day, yeah, I was very happy with what the car was doing, in a long run and in traffic.

“I was just trying to get my feel on ovals. On ovals, you can really feel a setup change every time you go out. You can be 1.5mph off and you think, ‘OK, there’s no way a small change on the car can find that time,’ and that’s because you need confidence and everything that goes with it.”

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Dale Coyne, team owner, initially sent out Grosjean’s teammate Ed Jones in the #51 Coyne with Rick Ware Racing-Honda.

“We let Ed go and do the first run to tell us if the car was properly set up,” said Grosjean, who accrued 10 podium finishes in Formula 1 with the Lotus team. “Then I went out and there weren’t too many drivers on track which was good for [replicating] qualifying time. And then through the day, we started having some traffic and learning about it.”

Grosjean admitted that at this 180-plus mph course, getting into the habit of looking a long way around the turns – due to the furthest point of vision being the point a driver arrives at rapidly on an oval – was not yet second nature.

“I think this is probably an area where I can improve,” he said. “You’re right, it’s very far away that you need to look, so I think, mmm, I can do better. I was probably looking a bit too close to my front wheels to make sure that I was putting them in the right place.

“But the more you go, the more you feel confident, and that’s the key. I would say for me it was a bit like the pieces of a puzzle –knowing what the car can do and getting the confidence so you can do it again and again.”

Some drivers on ovals prefer to have their steering set up so they are visually turning right to go down the straightaways, and then straightening the wheel up to tackle the corners. Grosjean said that’s the way he preferred on his first acquaintance with a left-turn-only track.

“It was set up to the right today,” he said. “It wasn’t such an issue. It was a bit strange initially to have to fight the car just to go straight, but then you get to the corner and just let it do its job. And because Turns 1 and 2 here are quite tight, your muscle gets used to the positions.”

Grosjean said that the short but high-speed nature of World Wide Technology Raceway, which generated a 183mph pole speed last year, had left him dizzy initially.

“I’d be driving and I’d be fine, but then I’d jump out of the car, and I’d be turning and struggling to stand up!” he chuckled. “I thought, ‘OK, that’s interesting…’ And the team were laughing at me because they were expecting it; apparently it’s quite common [for new oval drivers]. I was saying, ‘It’s not funny, I haven’t been drinking anything!’”

Grosjean is confident that his race engineer, Olivier Boisson, was happy with his progress through the course of the test.

“I think everything is good,” he said. “I’m really pleased with Olivier and the relationship and trust we have with each other. I’m really pleased he was here for me today… It’s all about the feel, and we got somewhere nice with the car. We didn’t put it all together so there are things still to do, and we weren’t as quick as we could have been for qualifying, but I think we have a nice racecar and we know what we can do to make it better.”

Despite this, Grosjean was keen to emphasize that he isn’t heading into his first oval race with major expectations.

“No, this was one test day and the race is always going to be something else,” said the 35-year-old. “I need to learn about racing in a pack on ovals. Conditions are going to change.

“So I wouldn’t say I come in with confidence but I come in prepared and knowing what the car needs to be able to do for me to go fast.”

Marion Grosjean, Romain’s wife, took to social media to tackle the topic of why her husband would attempt oval racing when he had vowed to avoid such tracks, having appreciated how his family had suffered during his fiery accident in his final Formula 1 race last year.

She said: “Some had implied that he would break his promise to protect us by driving on this type of track. However, it seems to me that the only promise ever made between us to date is that of supporting each other, no matter what.”

On this topic, Grosjean – who is currently touring the USA with his family in an RV – said that Marion was feeling more confident about him tackling ovals.

“Yeah, I think so,” he replied. “Today couldn’t have been any better, with her and my kids being here, and being part of this. I’m glad they were here, an incredible day. It worked out really nice.”

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