Sunday, May 28, 2023

Romain Grosjean Starting to Become a Fan of Ovals

Romain Grosjean practices at Iowa Speedway in 2022
Romain Grosjean practices at Iowa Speedway in 2022. Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment.

NEWTON, Iowa — Less than a year after his first oval start in the IndyCar Series, Romain Grosjean has started to enjoy oval racing, particularly on shorter ovals.

The Swiss-born Frenchman made his oval racing debut in 2021 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, making several passes in traffic that would make one assume that the former Formula 1 racer had driven many races on ovals.

Grosjean tested with the rest of Andretti Autosport at Iowa Speedway after the early July race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and learned a lot about the .894 mile short oval and how to drive it.

“It was good testing here,” Grosjean said. “Definitely challenging oval. It is closer to Gateway than Texas or Indy. That kind of was similar, but it’s very bumpy. The tarmac is quite tricky, so it was good to come testing just to get acquainted with the racetrack.

“We had some good work when we were here. Today the conditions were a bit different. I feel with all what we tested in the session, we could have a good car tomorrow.”

Grosjean was 23rd fastest in the 26 car field during Friday’s 90 minute practice session with a fastest lap of 168.370 mph. The No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda was six tenths of a second slower than session leader Will Power.

Driving an oval requires a different skillset than the one Grosjean grew up learning. One year on from his oval debut hasn’t given Grosjean enough experience to feel completely comfortable on speedways, despite enjoying them.

“I think it’s definitely not easy for a European driver to come and do the ovals,” Grosjean said. “If you look at it, we have four races on ovals, that’s it. It’s not that many. Everybody’s quite specific in what you need to know, where the car is going to go on an 80-lap stint. It’s difficult.

“I’m still trying to rely a lot on my teammates, my feedback as well, trying to feel confident and comfortable in the car mainly. It’s still quite tricky. Saying that, I like short ovals. They’re really fun.”

A lap at Iowa Speedway is completed in just under 20 seconds with only a handful of those seconds traveling in a straight line on the backstretch. With variable banking, multiple racing grooves and numerous bumps, the track truly is a challenge for any driver to master, especially for a rookie.

That’s one reason why Andretti Autosport’s test here was so valuable, especially with Devlin DeFrancesco being another rookie on the Andretti Autosport roster alongside Grosjean.

“It helped a fair bit,” Grosjean said of the test. “Here already when you arrive at Iowa and you leave the pit, it’s a challenge to get on the racetrack. It’s so bumpy. Just getting comfortable with that, with the pit entry, with the bumps in turn one and three, four, knowing where they are. Again, we went out, I am like, ‘Bloody hell, it’s slippery and bumpy.’ So you forget. Then you go into the session, it gets better.”

Grosjean will be the 12th car on track to qualify for the doubleheader weekend at Iowa Speedway. The first lap of his two lap qualifying attempt will set his grid position for Saturday’s 250 while the second lap will set the grid for Sunday’s Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300.

Follow @CDeHarde on Twitter.

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