MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Prior to Tuesday’s NTT IndyCar Series test at Barber Motorsports Park, the last time Romain Grosjean was in a race car, he was lucky to be alive.
It was on the first lap of the Nov. 29 Bahrain Grand Prix when Grosjean’s Haas VF-20 F1 hit a guardrail barrier at full speed, splitting the car in half and engulfing it in flames.
The Formula One veteran exited the car unaided and was helped away from the crash scene by Alan van der Merwe and Ian Roberts, with minor burn injuries to his hands and ankles before being airlifted to a nearby military hospital.
It was his last Formula One race.
Grosjean began the next chapter of his racing career with Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware in the NTT IndyCar Series Tuesday at the Alabama road course.
Grosjean will driving the No. 51 Honda in the street and road courses races this year, plus the oval contest at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill.
“It felt like home,” Grosjean said of his return to a race car. “(My children) were actually super-excited. I’ve been sharing with them a lot and showed them the car. They were happy. I sent them pictures and they were able to follow on social media.
“They know that daddy is doing what he likes and that is the most important thing to him.”
The Indy car is much different than the highly technical Formula One car that Grosjean has competed in. Most notably, there is no power steering in an Indy car.
“It is the hardest thing to cope with,” Grosjean said. “The first few laps, the muscles weren’t ready for the steering, but it got better as the day went on. That’s always a good sign. I know what I need to work on in the gym. I think I can fine-tune my training.”
Grosjean’s burned left hand continues to heal and he was able to endure through the challenge of the test, while making the transition to the DCR Honda.
“It went OK, the hand is not perfect,” Grosjean said. “There is a nice big blister on my left thumb which is not pretty. Driving wise, it wasn’t painful. I was careful on some of the curbs, but generally it wasn’t a limitation.”
According to unofficial times compiled by TrackSide Online, Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing was the fastest driver in the test session with a fast time of 66.518 seconds around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park.
Grosjean was the slowest of the 12 drivers at the test with a fast lap at 67.478 around the course but was just 0.96 seconds slower than VeeKay.
VeeKay was followed by Sebastien Bourdais in a Chevrolet (66.633), Graham Rahal’s Honda (66.721), Will Power’s Chevrolet (66.902), Conor Daly’s Chevrolet (67.021), Josef Newgarden’s Chevrolet (67.039), Scott McLaughlin’s Chevrolet (67.065), Simon Pagenaud’s Chevrolet (67.166), Dalton Kellett’s Chevy (67.238), Ed Jones’ Honda Takuma Sato’s Honda (67.448) and Grosjean.
“It felt good,” Grosjean said. “It really felt like home at the beginning. It’s a new car so I had to adjust a little bit to my new driving position, but things very quickly felt smooth.
“The car doesn’t have as much power as a Formula One car, but the mechanical grip is pretty outstanding, and you can drive different lines in the car. I could go on for a long time to compare the two cars, but what I found here is a lot of mechanical grip and less aero, but with less power. The drivability of the engine worked very well.”
Grosjean is with one of the smallest teams in IndyCar and believes the team is highly motivated and works well together.
“I think we can do a great job, and that is why I took the challenge,” Grosjean said. “Yes, there are less people, but generally I have been getting on very well with everyone and haven’t felt any limitations on the car.
“We tried different setups on the car just to give me a different feel. We didn’t look at finding the perfect balance; it was so I knew what was happening when we changed big things on the car.”
For Grosjean, the most important thing was climbing back into a race car.
“It felt like home, to be fair,” he said. “I didn’t have any apprehension whatsoever.”