Romain Grosjean captures first career IndyCar pole position for the GMR Grand Prix

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Romain Grosjean, six months removed from a fiery crash in Formula One that nearly killed him, won the pole position for his third career NTT IndyCar Series start, qualifying first for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Grosjean, who raced for a decade in F1 without a victory, outqualified two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden by 0.1269 seconds on the 14-turn, 2.39-mile road course at IMS to earn the top starting spot Friday in his No. 51 Dallara-Honda for Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing.

It was the Frenchman’s first pole position in more than 10 years. When he leads the field to green Saturday, it’ll be the first time he’ll be at the front of a rolling start in his major-league racing career.

“That feeling, whoa!” Grosjean told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “I forgot what it was. … the last few laps, I was on it.”

QUALIFYING RESULTSFull field rundown

INDYCAR SATURDAYHow to watch the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Said car owner Dale Coyne: “We knew he could win races. We knew he could win poles. He’s proving it today.”

Grosjean’s most recent pole position was in Turkey in a 2011 race in the GP2 (now F2) Series. He gave an exuberant shout after exiting the cockpit Friday and said “It’s like being alive again … I’m happier than I’ve been for a long time.”

Grosjean’s best start in F1 was a second nine years ago in Hungary. He had 10 podium finishes over 179 starts from 2009-2020 but none in the top three since 2015.

“Days that I completely forgot about is when you get to race weekend, you got those butterflies because you know if you do everything right, you may end up on pole or trying to win the race,” he said. “That’s definitely something I had no chance to do over the last few years.”

Grosjean narrowly missed making the Fast Six in qualifying for his IndyCar debut at Barber Motorsports Park, where he could tell he was competitive from the second practice. The Frenchman, who is racing exclusively on road and street courses this season, said the IMS road course (which opened 20 years ago as a host to F1) suited his style.

“All the tracks I’ve been racing in the U.S., that’s the one that feels the most familiar,” he said. “I can tell it was actually designed for Formula 1 the way the curves are, the layout and the corners.

“I knew I was going to feel OK on the track quite quickly, whereas St. Pete takes a little bit more time to learn. Barber, a few tricks here that you need to understand. Here for me it’s a bit more straightforward.”

Grosjean solved the IMS road course on a day when many veterans struggled.

Romain Grosjean celebrates with a team member after winning the pole position for the GMR Grand Prix (Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports Images).

Newgarden qualified second, followed by the unlikely group of Jack Harvey, Alex Palou, rookie Scott McLaughlin and Conor Daly, who made the Fast Six in knockout qualifying for the first time in his career.

Will Power, Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon all were eliminated after the second round Friday.

Power failed to advance after spinning and then stalling on course, bringing out a red flag that knocked out his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet. The 2018 Indy 500 winner threw his HANS device upon reaching his team’s timing stand, yelling “There’s no way he’s running the same (expletive) aero balance. No (expletive) way!”

Power failed to make the Fast Six for only the second time in 10 starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. After a minute to cool off, he took the blame in an interview with NBC Sports’ Marty Snider.

“I made a mistake,” said Power, a road and street course ace who was eliminated after the first round at Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last month. “Drove in with such a loose car, made a mistake. I would have been fine (but I) just stalled. Having trouble with the clutch, stalled, very frustrating. We could have driven back to the pits and been fine. Unfortunately, I cause a red and can’t continue. At least we’re 12th. That’s better than St. Pete 20th.

“I was very mad, yeah. Just so crazy how the car can change so much session to session. It’s the second race on a road course we’ve had this. I think we would have been OK had I not made a mistake. So frustrated at myself.”

Rossi also was flummoxed by his lap after leading the morning practice.

“Trying to figure it out; I honestly don’t know,” the Andretti Autosport driver said when asked by told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee why he lost speed. “Got a lot looser that time, so I’m kind of stumped. We’ll have to look into it. The second (round) went slower than the first session. A lot of confusing things.”

Juan Pablo Montoya, who will be making his first IndyCar start in nearly four years, qualified last after his fastest two laps were tossed out because the IndyCar stewards ruled he interfered with Palou.

Otherwise, the slowest lap would have belonged to Jimmie Johnson in Group 1. The seven-time NASCAR Cup champion had an adventurous session, needing an escape route off the course after being unable to slow down his No. 48 Dallara-Honda to make the Turn 1 corner.

“The peak of grip is so small, and that was the lap I needed to put everything together on, and I just outbroke myself,” Johnson told Lee. “So lesson’s learned, and it’s so tough to figure out where to be aggressive and how to increase each lap, but I’ll file that away. I’ve got 85 laps in the race tomorrow, plus the warmup. Just keep filing away everything that I can.”

Other notables who failed to advance from Group 1: Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson, Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Charlie Kimball.

QUALIFYING RESULTSClick here for the full rundown

ROUND BY ROUNDGroup 1 l Group 2 l Round 2 l Fast Six


QUALIFYING RESULTS FOR GMR GRAND PRIX AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

1. (51) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1 minute, 9.4396 seconds (126.447 mph)
2. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:09.5665 (126.216)
3. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:09.6528 (126.060)
4. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1:09.7118 (125.953)
5. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:09.7140 (125.949)
6. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:09.8662 (125.675)
7. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:09.8185 (125.760)
8. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:09.8222 (125.754)
9. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 1:09.8548 (125.695)
10. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 1:09.8722 (125.664)
11. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:09.9060 (125.603)
12. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, No Time (No Speed)
13. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:09.8243 (125.750)
14. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:09.9012 (125.612)
15. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:09.8382 (125.725)
16. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:09.9512 (125.522)
17. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:09.8665 (125.674)
18. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:10.0726 (125.304)
19. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:09.8759 (125.657)
20. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 1:10.1830 (125.107)
21. (11) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 1:10.6810 (124.226)
22. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:10.6174 (124.338)
23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 1:11.0455 (123.588)
24. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 1:10.9312 (123.788)
25. (86) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 1:11.1370 (123.429)

Romain Grosjean turned the fastest lap in the No. 51 Dallara-Honda of Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing in Friday qualifying the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports).

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”