French (45) and Grist (3) learned and grew this weekend. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Indy Lights debutantes Grist, French impress at Road America

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Both Garett Grist and James French delivered solid debut weekends in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at Road America, even if both drivers felt they left a bit on the table in the two races.

Grist stepped up from the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires ranks, and took over the No. 3 Team Pelfrey Dallara IL-15 Mazda that had been driven by Scott Hargrove, while French stepped into the renumbered No. 45 Belardi Auto Racing entry usually driven by Felix Rosenqvist.

Grist, the 22-year-old Canadian, had never been to the 4.014-mile permanent road course before and the Gary Neal-led team hadn’t tested, which made it a case where Grist’s eighth place qualifying effort driving the Buy Gap Guard/Lander Property Management/Mac Tools entry in the 14-car field on Friday was particularly impressive.

French hadn’t run an Indy Lights car since a test at Circuit of The Americas in November; however, track experience for the 23-year-old Sheboygan native undoubtedly paid dividends throughout the weekend.

Combined they had four out of a possible four top-10 finishes. Grist was seventh and 10th, with French eighth in both races.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“I ran into the back of the guy ahead of me. I was just so much faster that I didn’t think they’d brake that early,” Grist told NBC Sports Sunday after making a mistake when he damaged his front wing going into Turn 14.

“We were the fastest car on rain tires. (Ed) Jones and (Dean) Stoneman went to dries and then they were first and second quickest. But other than that, I was consistently the fastest car on the track by a lot. I did my best lap without push-to-pass and we were the quickest on wets. So it was just a bad mistake on my part.

“We definitely had a podium car there for sure, coming from eighth, but a silly rookie mistake that I shouldn’t make at this point.

“But I’m really happy with my first weekend. We had so much pace, we were so fast, so that’s a positive. As a first weekend, it was a learning weekend, and I’ll take it.”

French was more methodical in both races and blamed himself for not readjusting the engine mapping on his car back from wet to dry conditions in Sunday’s second races. Otherwise, he said he “had a blast.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“When it was consistent, I felt pretty comfortable,” French told NBC Sports. “I knew what to expect from the rain at least, but when it transitioned to dry, I found myself a little lost. I made the mistake of not going back to the dry fuel map, so I lost a little bit of time there.

“It was definitely a big learning curve, but I learned so much throughout the experience. Managing tires I kind of struggled with, when they’re not looking so good. That was definitely the difficult part. In full dry conditions I knew what to do. But finding somewhere in between and following the grip, I kinda struggled. Overall though, I had a blast.”

Grist’s next start will be on home soil in Toronto, as he wasn’t scheduled to race the Iowa Speedway oval.

French hopes to return for at least one and perhaps two more race weekends later this year. Brian Belardi told IndyCar Radio’s Rob Howden this weekend he expects Rosenqvist back for Toronto.

French has race weekends three and four of eight in a row the next two weeks, back in his usual Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Prototype Challenge class at Watkins Glen International, then at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).