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A Kinder Grosjean Takes First Laps In Indy Car

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 26 2021

Former F1 driver Romain Grosjean went to Barber with Dale Coyne this week. (Andy Hone/LAT Images)

After turning his first test laps with Dale Coyne Racing this week, NTT IndyCar Series rookie Romain Grosjean vowed to revise his gym routine, bone-up on mechanical grip and be a pal to teammate Ed Jones.

“I told him I used to be an asshole as a teammate back in the days, but now I’m 35 and I’d like us to be friendly,” Grosjean said after recording 80 laps around the Barber Motorsports Park road-course. “On track you want to beat them, there’s no doubt. But outside of the track I think if we can be friends, it’s mega.”

That’s welcome news for Jones. The 2017 series Rookie of the Year, Jones is a 25-year-old native of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and driver of the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan Honda.

And so the Americanization of Frenchman Grosjean has begun following a star-crossed career in Formula One.  A veteran of 179 winless F1 starts, Grosjean is transitioning to INDYCAR in 2021 on a one-year contract with Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. Grosjean will contest the series’ 13 street and road-course events on a 17-race schedule featuring the 105th edition of an Indianapolis 500 he will sit-out.

On Tuesday, Grosjean strapped into his new Dallara-built office. “It felt like home, to be fair. It felt like home, and didn’t have any apprehension whatever,” Grosjean said after his first hot laps in the No. 51 Honda. “Just going out there, learning the car. The real question is going to be at the race start April 18 here in Barber, but for now, driving the car is good.”

The test on Barber’s 2.3-mile/17-turn natural terrain layout was Grosjean’s first time in a race car since a fiery crash on the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix on Nov. 29 marked the end of his F1 career. Contact with the wheel of another car sent Grosjean’s No. 8 Haas F1 Team entry hurtling through and under a metal Armco barrier. The Haas chassis was torn in half, with Grosjean miraculously extricating himself from the burning wreckage seconds before the arrival of F1 safety personnel.

Grosjean, whose burned left hand is still healing, credited F1’s halo cockpit safety device with saving his life. His No. 51 entry is equipped with INDYCAR’s Aeroscreen cockpit safety device, introduced during 2020 to largely positive reviews.

“It went OK. I mean, it’s not…as I say, it’s not perfect,” Grosjean said during a ZOOM news conference. “There’s a nice big blister on my left thumb which is not pretty, but driving-wise it was OK. It wasn’t painful. I was being a bit careful on some of the curves, but generally, it hasn’t been a limitation.

“Obviously, it’s a new car, so I just had to adjust a little bit to my new driving position and so on. But things very quickly felt quite smooth, which was good. And then I discovered the joy of not having a power steering wheel, and I don’t regret all those hours in the gym. But maybe I’ll do some more just in case.”

Grosjean cited less horsepower, that lack of power steering and Firestone Racing’s rubber among several differences between the open-wheel cars featured in the FIA Formula One World Championship and INDYCAR.

“It’s definitely the hardest steering wheel I’ve had to cope with,” Grosjean said. “The first few laps, the muscles weren’t quite warmed up or ready for it. It got better at the end, which is always a good sign. I’ll know where to exactly work in the gym and what to do. I think I can fine-tune my training. I didn’t know really what to expect, and now it’s pretty clear.

“Yeah, I mean, there is less power. That is for sure. But I observed that the mechanical grip of the car is pretty outstanding and therefore you can try different lines in the corner and you can actually make it smooth in the way you want it.”

Grosjean drove in F1 for Renault, Lotus and Haas during a career that began in 2009 and included consecutive seasons from 2012-2020. Grosjean was the first driver hired by American businessman/racer Gene Haas at Haas F1 Team, where he spent the last five seasons. Grosjean’s nine-year F1 career covers 179 starts with no poles, no wins and 10 podium results. Grosjean and teammate Kevin Magnussen were informed last October they would not be re-signed for 2021.

“I think I could go on for a long time comparing Formula 1 and INDYCAR, but I don’t think it’s doing any favor to anyone,” Grosjean said. “I think really what I’ve found here is that there’s a lot of mechanical grip and less aero than the Formula 1 car and obviously a little bit less power. But that the drivability of the engine, the modes of the engine, the different maps we tried worked really well.”

Grosjean’s adventuresome day included a mild spin in Turn 1 during the morning session.

“Every time you come testing you have to try to find your limit, which I did in Turn 1,” Grosjean said. “I wasn’t quite happy with it, but it happened. I actually understood something you could do in Formula 1 you maybe cannot do in INDYCAR, so actually that was kind of a good learning experience. And then it’s really learning about when you change to dampers or the bars or something, what does it actually do on the car, how does it affect the car, which part of the corner.

“Basically, I just went too fast in. When I was on the brake I also picked up the throttle which you do in high speed. But because it’s a mechanical diff it does open the diff when you do that, and therefore it makes the car loose, whereas in Formula 1 it would actually stabilize the car. So I would say it was a learning experience and then I didn’t do it anymore, and it was better.”

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Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato officially joined an elite club of drivers to have their images placed on the Borg-Warner Trophy at least twice, unveiling his likeness during an online show at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum on Feb. 19.

Driver Takuma Sato made a return visit to Victory Circle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year.

A native and resident of Tokyo, Sato became the first Japanese driver to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 2017 and repeated the feat last August while driving a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “Taku” is one of just 20 drivers to win the race at least twice in its 104 editions.

Joining Sato in-person were team co-owners Bobby Rahal and Mike Lanigan, BorgWarner Global Director of Marketing and Public Relations Michelle Collins and IMS President J. Douglas Boles. RLLR co-owner/late night TV icon David Letterman and Japanese Ambassador to the United States Koji Tomita saluted Sato via video messages.

Sato’s likeness again was created by sculptor William Behrends, who has crafted the sterling silver, bas relief images of all winners for the trophy since 1990.

“I am thrilled to once again have my face become a permanent fixture on the Borg-Warner Trophy,” said Sato, who led 27 of 200 laps and averaged 157.824 mph during an event run on Aug. 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “William’s work is extraordinary, and it’s amazing how much detail he can fit into the sterling silver sculptures. The effort he puts into making each individual winners’ personality and character is quite special, and it was an honor to experience this thorough and remarkable process once again.”

Commissioned in 1935, the sterling silver trophy stands more than 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighs approximately 110 pounds, honoring every winner since 1911.

Later this year, Sato will receive a BorgWarner Championship Driver’s Trophy, also known as a “Baby Borg” _ a miniature replica of the Borg-Warner that will feature a duplicate of his sterling silver image. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also will receive a memento commemorating the victory _ the BorgWarner Championship Team Owner’s Trophy.

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Drivers Charlie Kimball, left, and Marco Andretti eyed the Borg-Warner Trophy at Indy last August. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Open-wheel veteran Charlie Kimball will return to A.J. Foyt Racing for two Month of May Series events this season.

The 35-year-old Californian will drive Foyt’s No. 11 Chevrolet in the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30 after competing in the Indy Grand Prix on the IMS road-course on May 15.

For the 13th consecutive season, Kimball will partner with longtime sponsor Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company, as part of the company’s Race with Insulin initiative. Kimball suffers from Type 1 diabetes.

Kimball ran the full 2020 season with Foyt’s team and closed it out finishing eighth in St. Petersburg, Fla. In 155 races, Kimball has posted six podium finishes and eight top-fives. He has finished in the top-10 on 45 occasions and led 163 laps. 

“Yeah, it definitely feels very comfortable heading back to working with A.J. Foyt Racing,” Kimball said during a ZOOM news conference with Larry Foyt, team president and son of icon A.J. Foyt Jr. “Larry was great to work with last year, continuing that relationship for more than a decade now with Novo Nordisk and the Race With Insulin program.

“Heading back to Indianapolis, Larry talked about unfinished business. After last year we have a solid foundation. I really enjoyed working with the guys from the team manager, Scott Harner, all the way down to the engineers, mechanics, everybody there. I think it’s a great fit to be in the No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet for this year’s Indy 500 as well as the Grand Prix.

“The Month of May here in Indianapolis is kind of the cornerstone of the INDYCAR Series. For me, it’s exciting to be a part of that.”

Kimball will join a three-car Month of May effort from the team based in Waller, Texas. Kimball will partner with four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 14 Chevrolet and second-year driver Dalton Kellett in the No. 4 Chevrolet.

“It’s a great announcement for us,” Larry Foyt said. “We all know what a challenging year 2020 was. Charlie was awesome to work with. We know he runs great at the Speedway. Really glad we’re able to run the GP running up to the Speedway, get that team clicking, ready to go into May.

“I’m really excited to be rolling into Indianapolis with three guys we know. I feel like that gives you kind of a bit of a head start going into that because even as much practice as we have there, it tends to go pretty quickly. You never know what weather is going to do. There are a lot of unknowns.

“I think the thing is now we know Charlie and we trust Charlie. We feel like we have three guys now that we can be trying things with during practice and be learning from. That’s just a really big advantage.

“That’s just really helpful because you have not only your race setup but also your qualifying setup at Indy that you have to develop. We’ve been working hard on our shop program here over the winter. We take a lot of pride in our Speedway cars. We definitely have some things we need to evaluate, so it will be really helpful.”

The 86-year-old Foyt _ aka “Super Tex” _ is INDYCAR’s all-time race-winner with 67, and first four-time champion of the Indy 500.

“Just no doubt the Indy 500 is on the top of our list,” Larry Foyt said. “We really care about that race. We’ve been working hard to get our permanent road course stuff better because we felt like we were lacking some competitiveness at the Indy GP and struggled there. We’ve been working on some shop development stuff for that kind of racetrack. All stuff that will hopefully benefit Charlie and the whole team as we roll into the Month of May.

“I think one of our issues has just been in recent years too many changes. We haven’t had consistency in drivers. We haven’t had consistency in engineering. Just the way things have played out. We’ve gone through a manufacturer change, trying to get caught up with that. Just been on our back foot a little bit.

“We’re carrying for us, as a smaller team, a pretty large engineering staff right now. We really are putting our resources, as we have pivoted from just being a normal, I think, ‘old-school INDYCAR team,’ we’re really an engineering-led team now. That’s been the goal over the last four or five years. We feel like it’s all headed in the right direction.

“We want to come out and start to turn what people think of when they think of A.J. Foyt Racing. We want to be back up-front.”

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REVISED 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE

Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (NBC)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (NBC)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (NBCSN)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (NBCSN)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBC)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (NBC)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (NBCSN)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (NBC)

Sunday, July 11 _ Streets of Toronto (NBCSN)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (NBCSN)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 26 2021
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