Grosjean misses out on maiden IndyCar win

17th May 2021
Damien Smith

The fairy-tale didn’t quite deliver the ultimate happy ending, but Romain Grosjean’s second place in just his third IndyCar start on Saturday still left the Frenchman with a big smile. The ex-Haas Formula 1 ace, who was so lucky to escape from that fiery crash in Bahrain late last year, performed beautifully on the Indianapolis road course, only to lose the GMR Grand Prix to young Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who claimed his first IndyCar victory.


Remembering what it’s like to lead

What is it about IndyCar that Grosjean’s enjoying so much, asked the interviewer in pitlane after the 85-lap race? “Leading races,” grinned the man who had fallen into the sad role of F1 backmarker in his final seasons at Haas. He sure didn’t look out of practice when he led at Indy, heading the field comfortably from his stunning pole position for his Honda-powered Dale Coyne Racing team.

Up until half-distance it looked as if a landmark Grosjean victory was well in hand, but the team’s decision to run the first two stints on the softer option red-walled Firestones and leave the black-walled primes for the final stint unravelled his hopes. After his second stop, Grosjean returned to the track with VeeKay bearing down on him on already warm red-walls and Romain was powerless to stop the 20-year-old sweeping into the lead, then quickly lost ground. His victory hopes were over.

Still, in the wider context Grosjean so easily recognises in the wake of Bahrain, second place still marked something special. “It’s really a good day,” he said afterwards. “We led at the start of the race and were super-fast. Bahrain was horrible, but for my life, it’s a great experience; the support I’m having [from fans] is incredible. The team did super good. We got a bit unlucky with slower cars, but P2 on my third race in IndyCar is not too bad.”

Left to right, Alex Palou, Romain Grosjean and the winner, Rinus VeeKay.

Left to right, Alex Palou, Romain Grosjean and the winner, Rinus VeeKay.

VeeKay: the latest first-time winner

This IndyCar season promised to be a cracker, but with five winners from the first five races it’s exceeding expectations. More significantly, three of the five are first-time winners, marking an exciting turning of the generations in America’s premier single-seater series.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou scored his first win at the season opener at Barber in Alabama, Arrow McLaren SP’s promising Mexican Pato O’Ward broke his duck on the Texas Motor Speedway – and now it was VeeKay’s turn to put in a superb and mature performance to deliver Ed Carpenter Racing its first victory since 2016.

“We had an awesome start to the weekend, and I knew we had the car,” VeeKay said. “The car was so fast. It’s just the perfect day. I don’t know what to say. Grabbing our first podium here a year ago, and now a win.”

ECR leading Dale Coyne Racing? These are supposedly the minnows of IndyCar racing – but not on this evidence. Remarkably five races in Team Penske has yet to score a victory, while Ganassi is the only team so far to have won more than one round, six-time champion Scott Dixon claiming the win in the first of the double-header on the 1.5-mile Texas oval. The other winner was another young gun, 21-year-old Colton Herta, who dominated the St. Petersburg street race. It was no secret that IndyCar was packed full of new talent – but still it’s great to see so many of them breaking through all at the same time.


Heartbreak for Harvey

Spare a thought though for Britain’s top IndyCar driver. Jack Harvey was looking good for a great podium finish for Meyer Shank Racing, only for his race to come undone at his second stop. First, his pit crew struggled to fit one of the rears and then when Harvey did return to the track he discovered that his right-rear Firestone was flat. Having started in an excellent third on the grid, he’d been running second to Grosjean at the time, but now trundled back to the pits at an agonising crawl. His finished a sad P23, two laps down on VeeKay – and deserved so much more.


Next up: the Big One

Palou continued to show his potential after a tricky start to the weekend with a water leak in practice, then recovered to finish a fine third for Ganassi. He headed the first of the Penske entries, Josef Newgarden having dropped from P2 on the grid to fourth at the finish.

Graham Rahal, son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby, put in a good afternoon’s work to rise from 11th on the grid to fifth, ahead of Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Andretti’s Alexander Rossi. Australian V8 Supercar king Scott McLaughlin continued his terrific progress since switching to IndyCar with an eighth place finish, ahead of Dixon and former Sauber F1 driver Marcus Ericsson who rounded out the top 10.

Mr consistency Dixon still leads the standings as he chases a remarkable seventh title, 13 points ahead of team-mate Palou, while VeeKay is up to sixth. 

But the points standings will be in the back of most minds in the next two weeks, as preparations begin for the IndyCar race that matters more than any other. The Indy 500 takes place on 30th May, with the first practice sessions kicking things off this week.

As for Grosjean he’ll be sitting this one out, having only committed to a part-season with Coyne and steering clear of the ovals for his first season in US racing. After what he’s been through and in full knowledge of the greater jeopardy drivers face on the ovals, we can hardly blame him for that call. But might he feel a twinge of regret come 30th May? Romain’s a bona fide IndyCar ace now. Of course he will.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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