Romain Grosjean completed his first ever IndyCar test session at Barber Motorsports Park, recovering from a spin in the morning to get in a full day of practice in his new car.
The session marks the first time the French racing driver has been back behind the wheel of any race car since suffering a horrific crash at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix on November 29, 2020.
Since then, he has found a new series to call his own, and will be racing the #51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing entry for the street and road course events on the 2021 IndyCar season.
After putting in a few laps in the morning, Grosjean had a high-speed spin while entering turn 1. His unsponsored black car had to be towed back to the pits after subsequently getting stuck in the gravel.
Despite the setback, he was back on track an hour later and ended up completing 83 laps by the end of the day, and was very close to the competitive times laid down by the series regulars who were also in attendance.
“It felt very normal,” said Grosjean after the full day of testing. “It really felt like home at the beginning. It’s a different car, a different [driving] position, but apart from that, everything felt great and normal.
“Basically I just went too fast [into turn 1]. When I was on the brake I also picked up the throttle which you do in high speed, but because it’s a mechanical diff it does open the diff when you do that, and therefore it makes the car loose.
“I just need to get used to a new car. It reminds me of when I was jumping from Formula Renault to Formula 3 and GP2. So far, I’ve been really happy with it.
“I think the more testing we have, the better it is, but I’m also very much looking forward for it to be the 17th and 18th of April to go racing.”
Grosjean was wearing a version of the helmet that was designed by his three kids and was intended to be worn during his final Formula 1 race at the end of the 2020 season.
The lingering effects of his crash in Bahrain, however, meant that he was forced to end his time in the sport two races early and never had a chance to wear the helmet as part of a proper send-off.
He still carries the marks of his accident on his hands, which show heavy scarring and are still a little sore during the rigors of piloting a 700 horsepower machine with no power steering.
“It’s definitely the hardest steering wheel I’ve had to cope with,” explained Grosjean. “The first few laps, the muscles weren’t quite warmed up or ready for it. I’ll know where to exactly where to work in the gym and what to do.
“There’s a nice big blister on my left thumb which is not pretty, but driving-wise it was okay. It wasn’t painful. I was being a bit careful on some of the curves, but generally it hasn’t been a limitation.
“I think really what I’ve found here is that there’s a lot of mechanical grip and less aero than the Formula 1 car and obviously a little bit less power, but that the drivability of the engine, the modes of the engine, the different maps we tried worked really well.
“The mechanical grip of the car has been really good. The way the team works is really good. It’s different, but I’m happy with that. Trying to adapt myself has been quite smooth.”
Grosjean was far from the only driver at this test. In total 12 drivers from five teams put in laps on the 2.38-mile course in Birmingham, Alabama to prepare themselves for the start of the new season.
Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing were all present to put some of the finishing touches on their preparations for the new season.
Timing from the event is not available as this was a private test session that was not attended by media outlets.
Grosjean has one more test scheduled at Laguna Seca, but then will return to Barber in just under two months’ time for IndyCar’s first race of the season on April 18.