Romain Grosjean has enjoyed an impressive first season in IndyCar midway through 2021. He claimed a second-place finish in only his third race, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, as well as a fifth at Road America. The Dale Coyne Racing driver initially abstained from all oval events but later announced an intent to contest the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Illinois — the track formerly known as Gateway.
Gateway is the shortest oval of the three on the IndyCar calendar, at just 1.25 miles, and the one with the tightest corners. Cars there hover at about 180 mph in qualifying, unlike the 230 mph-plus speeds recorded at superspeedways like the IMS oval. Grosjean is more comfortable running Gateway than those faster venues — a decision he’s clearly made very carefully out of concern for his family after his near-death experience at the Bahrain Grand Prix last year.
On Wednesday, Grosjean participated in his first oval test, on the same track he plans to race at. He lapped Gateway 166 times and at one point had a half-spin according to Racer, though his car suffered no damage. He’s gotten the go-ahead to take the grid on August 21, and is feeling pretty good about the opportunity:
“We went through the day and gathered a lot of information,” he said. “In that aspect it was super positive. We worked well and we learned that we could extract more performance from the car, which is great. At the end of the day, on the last, long run the car felt very nice and I was happy with it. I think that was key for us today — getting some key data, getting me comfortable in the car and being able to attack on a long run. Now we can put it all together when we come back in a few weeks for my first oval race. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Grosjean ultimately finished the day eighth-fastest and half-a-second off Colton Herta, who recorded the best lap. His wife and two kids were in attendance. Grosjean told Speed Sport he’d been wanting to try an oval for a while now, and ultimately chose Gateway for his first time out because it posed less of a risk than Texas and IMS:
“The season started, and things went pretty well. I was watching my friends doing Texas and the Indy 500 and I wasn’t happy being at home and watching them go around. Every driver I talked to said ovals are absolutely amazing.
“Why did I pick (WWTR)? It’s a short track and I felt like we were slowing down more in the corner and actually braking for turn one. And I felt like, ‘okay, if there’s braking and it’s a bit more like a road course-type circuit I may give it a go. That’s what we’re here for.”
I have to imagine watching the Indy 500 was excruciating for the guy, but he seems to be well on his way to ramping up to next year’s running. Good luck Romain!