IndyCar Driver Review: Remaining part-timers P28-39

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My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I looked at the 28 IndyCar drivers who raced in seven starts or more this year in detail. The remaining drivers in spots 28-39 all had their moments in their four starts or less (29th, Ana Beatriz, was covered in a separate post after running in seven races). My brief thoughts on each driver will follow:

28. Carlos Munoz

Stud, fearless, freak of nature; Munoz was the most exciting driver to enter into IndyCar since Tomas Scheckter in 2002, and Munoz’s countryman Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999. In 2014, we’ll see both Colombians on the grid for full seasons.

30. Luca Filippi

He finally got his IndyCar chance after funding failed to develop for RLL in 2012. Naturally, Filippi capitalized for Bryan Herta, with a combo of pace, dedication and tenacity reminiscent of another Italian who took IndyCar by storm – Alex Zanardi.

31. Pippa Mann

The “social media people’s champion,” with a steely resolve and fierce determination to prove she belongs in a car. No one fought harder to make their dream come true in 2013, and Mann performed better than her final results will register in Dale Coyne’s “Cyclops Cyclone” in her four starts.

32. James Davison

Davison was a surprise choice for Mid-Ohio and Sonoma in Coyne’s second car but acquitted himself well given a long open-wheel layoff. Will Power rates his countryman highly and Davison’s two starts lived up nicely to that praise.

33. Stefan Wilson

Another in the round-robin of No. 18 Coyne drivers, Stefan Wilson made an overdue and popular debut at Baltimore with one of the year’s sharpest liveries, the white-and-green Nirvana Tea Honda, and with brother Justin as his teammate. Stefan essentially thrown in at the deep end but kept his head while most of the others found the wall, improving his lap times and gaining valuable experience.

34. Conor Daly

Few “get” Indy more than Daly and his ’500 debut, if rocky at times, was well-deserved. Seems keen to prove himself further in IndyCar and his dedication to the sport is unquestioned, as he was a frequent visitor at the IndyCar races that didn’t clash with GP3. Hell, he even got a podium in an Indy Lights cameo at Houston.

35. Townsend Bell

It’s been a pleasure for me to get to work with Townsend on our “Ten with Townsend” series of questions throughout the year. Our NBCSN analyst’s one start this year at Indy didn’t quite go to plan, but it was definitely memorable given his yellow-and-blue hat he rocked for the month of May.

36. Lucas Luhr

I’ll be honest; I was shocked when I heard Luhr – a sports car veteran of a dozen years – would be making his IndyCar debut for Sarah Fisher at Sonoma. Luhr didn’t make a huge first impression, but improved over the course of the weekend and would be welcomed back for future IndyCar starts.

37. Katherine Legge

Every year, one Indianapolis 500 qualifying effort leaves your jaw dropped, and for me, Katherine’s was the one. She hadn’t driven an IndyCar in eight months and had just come off racing the radical DeltaWing at Monterey when she arrived for a “Bump Day special” in Sam Schmidt’s third car. The qualifying run was perfect and her race would have ended in the top 15, possibly top 10, had she not made slight contact exiting Turn 2 early in the race.

38. Buddy Lazier

Every year, one Indianapolis 500 entry leaves your jaw dropped, and for me, seeing Buddy Lazier back in a car for the first time in four years was rather stunning. But hey, to his credit, the 45-year-old got on with the program without missing a step. It was good to have him back in the field even if it was mainly to help fill the field to 33.

39. Michel Jourdain Jr.

Including Michel as a cursory mention here because he was this year’s hard-luck qualifying driver at Indy. All month, RLL could not get the setup and pace right on this third car, and Jourdain failed to qualify for no fault of his own. There’s many in the paddock that wants the popular Mexican driver to get another chance.

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”