After Fernando Alonso’s full-time Formula 1 return ended his IndyCar dalliances and Jenson Button’s bid to contest the road and street courses fell through, Romain Grosjean’s single-handedly reinvigorated international interest in IndyCar and given the championship a huge draw for 2021.
Grosjean’s Dale Coyne Racing deal had obviously long been rumoured, but prior to Wednesday’s announcement there were still plenty of question marks about the ins and outs, and what’s unfolded behind the scenes in the months from Grosjean losing his Haas F1 seat to now.
Are Grosjean’s injuries going to affect his transition?
The move to IndyCar will be hard enough given all the things Grosjean has to learn, but the rehab required following his fiery Bahrain crash last year just complicates that further.
“The first test is the 22nd of February, I may not be yet 100% in terms of what I can do, but definitely good enough to drive very well,” admitted Grosjean.
“And by the time we go to race one, I’m going to be ready.
“I’m not worried about it. Since the accident happened on the Sunday in Bahrain, on Wednesday I was already in the gym trying to get the mobility going.
“But with the [IndyCar] season start being postponed a little bit, it all actually played into my hands – if I can use the play of words!
“I guess time will tell. But, there’s always painkillers if needed. And we’re going to work around the steering wheel the best we can.
“I think it’s going to be alright. It’s only a simulator back home that I have for esports, but I’ve been using it a fair bit just to get my hand in the right position and get the skin used to do those movements.
“So I think I don’t have any concern and it should be fine really.”
Will Grosjean ever race on ovals?
You can read The Race’s full story on this from Wednesday. The answer is, possibly! He was considering a full season of IndyCar before his Bahrain crash and has since refused to rule out doing the Gateway race.
The longer/bigger ovals, like Texas and Indianapolis, are definitely not on the cards for 2021. You get the feeling Grosjean could be easily coaxed into it, but is holding the burden of knowing the pain his Bahrain crash put his young family through.
Perhaps Grosjean put it best when he said: “If I was 25 and single, or even with no kids, I’d be racing ovals!”
Maybe he can still be persuaded. Dale Coyne and Rick Ware will be at the front of the queue, trying to make it happen when their new driver is ready.
What’s the testing plan?
Grosjean is already behind in this department as almost every driver has tested at the back end of 2020 or the start of 2021, following last season where in-season testing was forfeited following the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Dale Coyne has outlined an extensive four-day testing schedule for Grosjean before the season starts. That will leave him not too far behind his rivals.
“February 22, we’re at Barber,” said Coyne.
“A week later, we’re at Laguna [Seca], it looks like we’re going to have four testing days scheduled before the first race at Barber.”
At least one, possibly both, of the other days is expected to be at Sebring.
Coyne continued: “We’ve got that, and then we’ve got some simulator work that’s going to be coming up so I think all that will get him ready.”
When/how often will Grosjean race in 2021?
The 2021 IndyCar calendar has had three changes already. It now starts at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on April 18.
He’ll miss three events in total as things stand: The Texas oval double-header that follows Barber, the Indianapolis 500 in May (although he’ll race on the road course at the Brickyard two weeks before), and, at the moment, the Gateway oval on August 21. However, he’s mooted the possibility of giving that race a go.
Grosjean’s IndyCar calendar
April 18 Barber Motorsports Park
April 25 St Petersburg
May 15 Indianapolis road course
June 12-13 Detroit double-header
June 20 Road America
July 4 Mid-Ohio
July 11 Toronto
August 8 Nashville
August 14 Indianapolis road course 2
September 12 Portland
September 19 Laguna Seca
September 26 Long Beach
Is he bringing a financial package?
As with every other top-line motorsport series, IndyCar has drivers on full salaries, drivers connected to sponsorship deals but who you wouldn’t consider outright ‘pay drivers’ in the traditional sense, and drivers who literally pay for their seat. Coyne has a history of dipping into his own pocket to get a top-line driver in one of his cars, but less so in recent years.
So what’s Grosjean’s situation? No direct answers were offered in Wednesday’s interviews, but we can read between the lines.
For starters, sponsors MindMaze and Richard Mille which appear on the ‘launch livery’ taken from an iRacing mock-up are Grosjean’s own backers. So a deal has seemingly been reached there to allow Grosjean’s backers space on the car.
Of the other logos, Valpak has been with Dale Coyne since 2018 and Guaranteed Rate joined in 2020 backing the Alex Palou entry mid-way through the season.
There’s little doubt Grosjean is being compensated for driving the car – and perhaps that’s done through his sponsors on the car. Rick Ware spoke at length about sponsorships – across both IndyCar and NASCAR – on Wednesday with regards to the team.
So it’s my belief that Grosjean will be earning money via a deal with the team and/or through having his sponsors on the car, while Coyne and Ware will look to leverage his presence and performance in IndyCar.
Asked whether geography was still important in terms of getting American sponsors onboard with foreign drivers, Coyne replied: “Romain coming here kind of reminds me of when Nigel Mansell came here and he wasn’t American and he lit the world on fire over here.
“People want to see results, they want to have a good driver they can cheer for, somebody who’s a good spokesman for them and a driver that has results.
“Numbers don’t lie. And if you can finish toward the top, it gets you what you need.”
Responding and expanding on the Mansell analogy Ware added: “I absolutely share those [views].
“It still takes dollars to make all this happen.
“But, Romain is in a unique category, Nigel is probably a perfect example of that kind of person that came over and raced.
“At that time, using Nigel as an example, he was definitely a foreigner, but he was sponsored by Kmart. And at the end of the day, Kmart got a lot of coverage!”
Ware later added: “We don’t necessarily have to be selling him eating hot dogs and hamburgers.
“Social media is so important now and that’s where we’re going to get the byproduct of having a true professional.
New year, new challenge! Super excited to go racing with @DaleCoyneRacing this year in @IndyCar .
I'll be racing the Dale Coyne racing #51 with @RickWareRacing#r8g #indycar @MindMazeTech pic.twitter.com/Zhjcn3kgsN
— Romain Grosjean (@RGrosjean) February 3, 2021
“And just a great guy, a great storyline and a great race driver.
“At the end of the day, people want to see people go fast, and people want to see people passing people. For sure, I think we have that person. So that’s going to sell for us.”
There’s no doubt this was a complex deal especially given the 11th hour change from a full programme to a part-season one. But you have to believe all parties have a fair end of the stick if the deal is as we suspect.
Who will race the car on ovals then?
With the backing of NASCAR and sportscar team Rick Ware Racing this season for two of Dale Coyne’s entries including Grosjean’s, it looked like Ware’s son Cody would take the wheel for the ovals in place of Grosjean – especially as he got seat time in a recent test.
However, Rick Ware said those plans were still being discussed and that Coyne had the final say as a person who has “probably brought through more IndyCar rookies than anyone”.
To complicate matters, the third car, which was earmarked for just a one-off entry at the Indy 500 as it was last year, could do now “four or five” races, according to Coyne. Ware also flagged up the fact that Cody is keen to do more road courses, not just ovals.
My grip training and Indy car the other week had me well prepped, already been training for cars with no PS. When cars with PS have failures it’s even harder because you are fighting the broken parts VS dealing with a car built without it.
— Cody Ware (@CodyShaneWare) February 1, 2021
So, it looks like Cody Ware will do the Indianapolis 500 and a select number of other races, while another driver will come in and do the ovals as Grosjean’s deputy.
Top of that list has to be the experienced Charlie Kimball, who has been linked to the team in the off-season and is currently without a drive at a time when no obvious full-time opportunities are available.
Is this anything more than a one-year wonder?
Obviously in 2021, finding out details of contracts is harder than ever, but you always get the sense that Coyne would never purposefully mislead you and will give you an honest answer where possible. He’s old-school in that way.
When asked if the deal to field Grosjean was multi-year, Coyne said: “We’ve talked, we haven’t committed to next year yet, but we’ve certainly talked about it.
“I think he wants to stay here and prove some stuff. Maybe we’ll get him to Indianapolis next year?”
Grosjean, urged to reply, smiled and said: “We’ll see. Never say never.”
What does Grosjean think of the aeroscreen?
Grosjean was once sceptical about the halo in F1, an opinion he certainly no longer holds after its role in his escape from his Bahrain crash.
IndyCar has taken a different route for its cockpit protection by adopting the Red Bull Technologies designed aeroscreen that F1 decided against. So what does Grosjean think about it?
“I think it’s a great invention, generally,” says Grosjean of IndyCar’s head protection device brought in for last season.
“And I need to test it to see if there are any things that you need to adapt in terms of visibility, but from what I believe, no.
“Obviously, it [the halo] has saved my life, I’m sure it’s going to save some more in the future.
“And it’s not unknown that I was against the halo being brought to motorsport.
“But in French, we say ‘only idiots don’t change their mind’.
“So I did change my mind and I wouldn’t race a car with no halo or aeroscreen on!”
Who is Grosjean’s lead engineer?
— Kate Shoup (@kateshoup) September 12, 2020
Grosjean will be partnered by Olivier Boisson, who is French-speaking and went to visit Grosjean in Switzerland over the holiday period.
Boisson came to Dale Coyne along with countryman Sebastien Bourdais from KVSH Racing for 2017 and has been a mainstay at the squad ever since. He’s a highly rated member of the personnel in the IndyCar paddock.
“It’s very difficult to explain, but sometimes the alchemy works quite well and with Olivier we get on very, very well,” said Grosjean.
“We come from the same region in Europe, I guess maybe that helps a little bit. And we’ve had, straight away, a good relationship.
“I asked loads of questions, some very simple to some more advanced. And also spoke with with some of the other engineers working, and also the chief mechanic who is named Todd [Phillips].
“And straightaway from the day the contract was signed, he did send me an email and was welcoming me in the team as well as Terry [Brown], the team manager.
“I got five or six emails from the guys on the day that the contract was signed. And I thought, ‘this is what I’m looking for’.
“I’m looking to go racing with people that are motivated about racing, and they love it, as I do.
“I may be turning 35 in the first race of the season, but I still feel like I’m 20. I’ve got lots to learn and lots to do.”
How esports will play a role
It’s no secret that Grosjean has launched a very successful esports team, and his adaptation is already providing benefits for him.
We saw during the pandemic lock down last year that in IndyCar’s replacement iRacing championship, teams were bringing in real engineers and strategists alongside the drivers, even though it was a fixed set-up series.
Grosjean is ready to use the accuracy of the iRacing model to help adapt him to many of the tracks he’s not raced on before.
“I told [Boisson] that I can run the IndyCar on iRacing, and I can send him the data, so we can see if it’s completely off the reality or not,” he added. “So I can learn the circuits in that aspect.”
With all the uphill struggles he faces adapting to IndyCar, it’s nice for him to know that there’s an accurate sim in his home.
Outside of his house, sim work is still as important in IndyCar as it is in F1 even if less resource is dedicated to it simply due to the fact that the championship is smaller.
Dale Coyne added that Grosjean’s F1 experience will be really important for the team here.
“I think it’ll be big,” says Coyne. “Honda has already shown more enthusiasm about our simulator work, what we can learn from that, knowing that he has a sense of background in sim work in Europe.
“So I think that’s probably our biggest addition this year. His knowledge will be what we can learn on a simulator.”
Perhaps one of the ‘OGs’ of simulators – Gran Turismo on the Playstation – also cropped up in Grosjean’s press conference.
Asked if there was any event or track he was most looking forward to in 2021, he said: “If I’m being honest, pretty much all of them.
“But if you really want to have one that stands out, it’s Laguna Seca.
“Just because I used to race it when I was a teenager – a couple of years ago – on video games. I think it was Gran Turismo and I really like Laguna Seca. I think it’s going to be cool to go there.”
Grosjean will test there before racing at the event, which is due to be the penultimate round of the season.
What are Grosjean’s expectations, realistically?
It’s been a very smart and humble approach from Grosjean: Not expecting he’s just going to turn up in IndyCar and win.
But you can tell he believes in his own ability enough that he’ll be expecting to get on the podium more than the once the team managed (below right, with Palou at Road America) with two full-season cars last year.
“I know if you compare maybe Penske or Chip Ganassi to Dale Coyne Racing it is a smaller team,” said Grosjean. “But again, it doesn’t mean that you cannot compete at the front.
“I think I need to learn how IndyCar works, we need to learn to work together. So, I’m not going into race one thinking I’ve done 10 years in Formula 1, I’m going to win that, easy. No, I need to learn.
“I think we can be competitive and I am not coming just to be entering IndyCar, that is definitely not my option.
“But also I’m entering knowing that I’ve got many things to learn.
“So let’s see what that brings us.
“We’re ready to take on the challenge, and to learn as fast as we can.
“But as I say, I’ve been watching many races and the team has done very well last year with some rookies. So I’m hopeful that we can repeat that, or even top up a little bit on top.”
Do you have more questions surrounding Grosjean’s deal? Let us know in the comments or social media and we’ll reply