Like Jimmie Johnson who was also in action at IMS today, Grosjean’s attempt to complete the Rookie Orientation Programme was stymied by rain, just a few laps shy of completing the third and final phase, which requires the rookie to run 15 laps over 215mph.
But the former Formula 1 driver, who has switched to the #28 Andretti Autosport after running his rookie IndyCar season for Dale Coyne Racing, was drawing several positives after his first test with Michael Andretti’s squad and his first ever laps on Indy’s iconic oval.
“It’s a very impressive team in the way they work, the way they operate,” observed the 35-year-old who skipped this year’s Texas double-header as well as the Indy 500. “But it’s also a very open team. They also are very interested in understanding what we were doing with our car [at Coyne], how could we be so fast.
“It’s a big team, but also I like the fact that inside the team you can fly with your own wings. It’s not, like, super rigid where you cannot do anything. I feel like we’ve got all the resources we want, but we can also do our work on our side. If it doesn’t work, we have the chance to revert back to [the setup of] someone else. If it works, it feels like we can be onto something cool.”
He later added that having three team-mates – plus Andretti Autosport’s technical partnership with Meyer Shank Racing, who will run Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud next year – will be of enormous benefit next May.
“The car set-up today was very, very good. It was kind of easy to go through the phases, which is great. But I think I still need to learn a lot on ovals.
“I think that’s why you have a driver like Helio, that can win it more than once. One could be a lucky day. Twice I doubt it’s a lucky day. Four times, you know he’s doing something special! It’s great that I’m able to look at his data, what he’s been doing, try to learn as much as I can to do the same.”
Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport-Honda, IMS Rookie Orientation Program, Oct. 6, 2021.
Photo by: Chris Owens
Grosjean said he had been listening attentively to advice and appreciated the presence of James Hinchcliffe, whose latest spell in the squad, at least as a full-time driver, is apparently at an end.
“I got some good explanations, some good tips from the guys, from the engineers,” Grosjean said. “Also, James Hinchcliffe came in the morning, which I appreciated a lot. Michael was there, as well. When you’ve got those guys, they know what they’re talking about, so that was great to be with them and to know what to do.”
Asked what advice they provided, Grosjean said: “Look at the windsock, that was a good one. You don’t think about it if you don’t know about it.
“Don’t go too low down the line and hit the inside curbs. Pump your brake before you get to the pit stop. A few things that are a little bit different from normal because obviously in Gateway [scene of Grosjean’s oval debut] we were using the brakes. When you were coming to the box [in Gateway], they were hot-ish – not super hot, but there was heat in them. Here you can do 20 laps, 30 laps and you don’t touch the brake. When you come in, they are cold. It’s not that friendly.”
Given that it was also Grosjean’s first test with Andretti Autosport, he discovered changes between the in-cockpit arrangements of the two cars.
“The steering wheel is different because every team can put the buttons where they want,” he remarked. “I need to get used to them. I pressed a few times the overtake button [instead of] the pit speed limiter – a few things like that. The screen, the dash, was a bit different as well. I was getting used to it.
“The cockpit feels pretty much the same, especially because we could carry over my seat from Dale Coyne to Andretti. My seating position has been the same. Only thing is, I was using a Ryan Hunter-Reay grip today on the steering wheel, whilst we are going to do mine now. That was a bit different from what I’d ideally like.”
Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport
Photo by: Chris Owens
Unlike some of the more experienced oval drivers, Grosjean said he had the steering wheel set in the traditional manner, with the top of the wheel level when the front wheels were straight. Some drivers prefer to have the wheel set-up whereby it appears to be turning right on the straights so that it becomes level when pitching into the four bends.
“It was actually quite straight in the straight, at least compared to Gateway,” said Grosjean. “I think Gateway was a bit different because it’s a tighter track. Actually I learned maybe Iowa could be more. It felt pretty straight compared to Gateway. Even on the straight, the car wants to go left, but nowhere near as bad as it was in St. Louis.
“It felt OK. I don’t know on ovals what I should have, so I pretty much copy what new team-mates Colton [Herta] and Alex [Rossi] are running, then use that as a reference and learn from there. So far I didn’t feel like anything needed a big change.”