From crash kid to shining star, Grosjean now seeks redemption in Monaco

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A lot can change in a year. Romain Grosjean knows that better than anyone. Following last year’s Monaco Grand Prix, his Formula 1 career appeared to be in the balance, but he has since reformed himself into one of the sport’s brightest talents.

On lap 61 of the race in 2013, Grosjean was trailing Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo coming out of the tunnel. The Frenchman attempted to make a pass heading into the chicane, but made a severe misjudgement. The Lotus destroyed the back of the Toro Rosso, and both drivers were fortunate to walk away unharmed. Ricciardo, in his ever positive style, brushed it off, but it was Gorsjean’s third crash of the weekend. Clearly, there were more serious problems at Lotus.

Grosjean had debuted in F1 back in 2009 as a mid-season replacement for Nelson Piquet Jr. at Renault, but was not retained. He bravely stepped back down into the junior categories, and excelled, winning the GP2 title in 2011. A full-time seat with Lotus beckoned in 2012, and although he did score three podium finishes, there were too many accidents. He even received a ban for causing the first corner pile-up at the Belgian Grand Prix.

He made an okay start to the 2013 season, picking up a podium finish in Bahrain, but DNFs in Spain and Monaco – where he also crashed twice in practice and qualifying – put him under pressure. To make matters worse, it was common knowledge that he was on a three race rolling contract. Many pundits believed that had Eric Boullier – a long time supporter – not been in charge at Lotus, he would have been dropped.

Further non-scores in Canada and Great Britain really put the heat on Grosjean, and another first-corner incident with Mark Webber led to the Australian coining the term “Grosjeaned” (verb, to be unnecessarily hit on track).

When we sat down with Romain at the Nurburgring, it was clear that he was incredibly frustrated after not having much luck at Silverstone the week before. “I’m doing my best,” he said, with a tone that suggested he was running out of ideas. “Hopefully things will come together.”

And come together they did. That very weekend, Romain came close to winning his first ever grand prix. Ultimately, he had to yield second place to Kimi Raikkonen, but he came home in P3 with a huge smile on his face.

This run didn’t stop in Germany, though. He scored a further four podiums, and scored points in every race he finished. In Austin, he came home in a brilliant second place behind Sebastian Vettel, and it was clear that everything had changed.

Even at the beginning of this year, Grosjean has established himself as team leader at Lotus. Whilst new teammate Pastor Maldonado has spent most of his time kicking around towards the back – or, worse, in the wall – Romain has risen to the challenge. In Spain, he qualified a superb P5, and brought the car home in eighth after a power unit problem.

In Monaco next weekend, there will be the idea of redemption playing on Romain’s mind. Even just some points would be enough to prove how much has changed over the past 12 months; it’s a good news story for one of the truly nice guys in the sport.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”