Romain Grosjean is headed to IndyCar. The 34-year-old Frenchman will return to racing after his harrowing crash at last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix on behalf of Dale Coyne Racing in the #51 Rick Ware Racing car — though he won’t be behind the wheel for every stop on the 17-round calendar.
Grosjean is sticking to the road courses and street circuits this season, while abstaining from at least three of the four oval races, including the Indianapolis 500. The decision was unsurprisingly motivated by his near-death experience just a few months ago, as Grosjean had earlier agreed to drive for Dale Coyne Racing for the full 2021 season, but decided after the accident to avoid the ovals, as he told the media during a Twitch press conference:
I got in contact with Dale Coyne before the Bahrain incident — I think the week before Imola, or maybe a couple of weeks before Imola — and we got on very nicely. He made us an offer and I was going to do the full championship but then obviously Bahrain happened, and I think for a moment I thought I was dead in Bahrain. Being a father of three kids I need to be sensible in my decisions, in my choices in the future, and at the minute I don’t feel comfortable — not especially for me but more for my kids and my wife to risk ovals, at least the speedways.
Beside Indy, Grosjean is ruling out the May doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway. There is one more oval event, at Illinois’ Gateway Raceway, though that track is a 1.25-mile oval, and IndyCar averages significantly lower speeds there, topping out just over 180 mph in qualifying, as opposed to the 230 mph-plus speeds at Indy. Grosjean appears to be undecided about that one:
There may be options that I could look at Gateway — the short track — but the super speedways I really don’t feel like I can, you know, risk that for my kids and my wife. Therefore I think to learn the championship already, I think there are some good races.
Decades of safety enhancements have made motorsports safer, but all the technology in the world can only do so much to soften the impact of a super-high-speed incident on an oval. The 2017 IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway — one of the venues where Grosjean will sit out — saw just nine out of 22 cars finish.
Honestly, even while Grosjean’s decided to stay off the ovals for now, the fact he decided to join IndyCar at all after what he’d been through still surprises me. From his interview with Motorsport.com, also published today:
“I asked myself during the winter if I wanted to stop racing, and very quickly I told my wife, ‘I’m sorry, this is probably not what you want to hear but I want to go back racing.’ And she’s been very supportive. Instead of telling me, ‘No, you shouldn’t do that,’ she and my kids have been fully behind me and know that if I want to be happy and be who I am, I need to be racing – it has always been part of my life. The thing we’ve agreed is that I don’t do the superspeedways because the risk is a bit too high. And Dale understood that, which is great.”
Grosjean is still recovering from his accident, telling Motorsport.com that while his left hand feels “100 percent OK,” his right hand only about halfway back. He says he’ll have to take it easy during testing, but by the time the season begins, as it’s scheduled to in April, he expects to be fully ready. And he really wants to be ready, as it seems it was the parity of competition that endeared him to IndyCar in the first place:
“While I’m on my exercise bike in front of the TV, I watch the IndyCar channel on YouTube – it’s really good, by the way, with 30-minute highlights or full-race replays – from 2020, 2019 and 2018. I’ve got to say, it’s the pure racing that I loved for many years as I was coming through, and that I missed for so many years recently. In Formula 1, you don’t feel like you are even competing in the same championship as the Mercedes.
“Knowing that basically everyone has the same car, the same chance, is something I’ve missed. And then knowing that if you have a tough qualifying or a problem at the beginning of a race, you as a driver can make the difference because the cars are so closely matched or the team can help you make the difference with strategy… it’s mega.”
Here’s to a safe and successful IndyCar career, Romain.