INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Romain Grosjean survived a fiery Formula One crash and left the series to join IndyCar where he thought he might fight for victories after nearly a decade of driving a car that never stood a chance.
Now he seems to be at home in America.
In just his third race with Dale Coyne Racing, Grosjean will lead a field of 25 cars to the Ziegelhof at the Indianapolis Grand Prix on Saturday. He spun a 1 minute and 9.4396 second lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday to beat two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden.
It is the 35-year-old French’s first pole position since a 2011 GP2 Series race in Turkey, and he celebrated with joy at bending his arms as he drove into the pit lane.
“It’s like being back to life,” said Grosjean. “That feeling, whoa! I actually forgot what it was. Amazing.”
Newgarden starts second for the Penske team.
Jack Harvey finished third for Michael Shank Racing after a surprising qualification in which the defending champion Scott Dixon did not leave the first lap. Dixon also struggled in the second training session because of a problematic clutch.
“It was a messed up grille,” said Newgarden. “I was really surprised where some people qualified.”
Grosjean missed the last two races of last year’s F1 season after a harrowing fall in Bahrain in November that tore himself from a fireball of debris. He has said that the Halo cockpit protector likely saved his life and that he suffered severe burns that left scars on his hands.
He knew even before the accident he was not being held back by the American team Haas, and Grosjean had already turned to IndyCar because he was tired of running in a series where the quality of the car wasn’t all that mattered.
While Coyne is not an IndyCar heavyweight, Grosjean finished 10th and 13th in his first two races.
“I started looking for homes in America,” he said when asked if the IndyCar series could become a permanent target. “That’s the answer you want.”
If he continues to get strong results, he has plenty more options – starting Saturday when he chases his first podium since 2015 and his biggest win since winning the GP2 title in 2011.
“I love the atmosphere between the drivers, I love the tracks,” said Grosjean.
OLD AND NEW
Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmie Johnson are familiar faces on the speedway. You’re just in different roles this year.
Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, is aiming for his first win on the racetrack and in his first IndyCar race since 2017. He will last start in the 25-car field as his two fastest laps were thrown due to interference.
Johnson is now a seven-time NASCAR champion and a four-time Brickyard 400 winner. While he’s starting his third IndyCar on Saturday, Johnson isn’t one of the favorites on race day and he knows it. Johnson starts on 23.
“I’m not in the game yet, so at least I’m under less pressure now than in the past,” said 45-year-old Johnson. “It’s my beginner year and there are very few tests.”
ALL IS WELL
There’s no feud between Graham Rahal and Harvey per se, but the two certainly had to purge the air after a disagreement at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this month.
Rahal was not happy with Harvey’s race that day and said he was planning a “man-to-man” conversation with the driver. Harvey then grumbled that competitors often drive his Michael Shank Racing entry “part-time in small teams” thinking they can do anything anytime.
Shank, the team’s co-owner, backed Harvey this week, saying his team isn’t being pushed around.
This led Rahal to determine that the Shank team is focused on the powerhouse Andretti Autosport and that Harvey has made legitimate progress.
“They can talk big, whatever they want. ‘People like Graham still think I’m a part-time worker.’ That’s a total lie, “Rahal said.” Mike Shank is part of Andretti (Autosport). We know they are a serious competitor week after week. They can jump off and try to be tough if they want to. They are a great competitor. Nobody tries to push him around. That’s not what this is about. “
Rahal said the problem he has is race control, and Harvey is too aggressive in Texas – something serial officials could have done from the tower.
“This is about the consistency of officiating, doing the right things and not killing anyone,” Rahal said. “For me that was the conversation. It was just, “Hey, you know we can’t do that.” He agreed. Jack is a good guy, stand-up guy. Mike too. Nobody tries to push him around and say they are part time. That was long over. We know they are serious competitors. We know they’ll be quick this month. “
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Michael Marot, The Associated Press