In only his third NTT IndyCar Series start, Romain Grosjean challenged for his first career win until he gave up the lead late in the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Rinus VeeKay, who scored his first win in his 19th start. Grosjean earned his first podium finish instead.
“I think we’re kind of disappointed to be second but also super happy, and I was telling the team, look, guys, that’s a great day,” Grosjean said in the post race press conference. “You can’t be disappointed being second. That’s fantastic.”
“We’ve had a strong car all weekend. We were leading the race quite easily in the first stint. We got a bit unlucky with traffic and back markers. I think that cost us a chance to go for the win, but also Rinus was quite fast on a different strategy.
“The right one, I guess.”
Grosjean opted to start on faster red tires, but when he made the mandatory switch to blacks for his third stint, he lost enough pace to allow VeeKay to pass him and then extend his lead in a series pit stops in the second half of the race. VeeKay secured the win with a dramatic three-wide pass over eventual third-place finisher Alex Palou and Jimmie Johnson, who they were lapping.
VeeKay started on blacks after saving a set of reds in qualification. That allowed him to pick up the pace at the end.
Grosjean started the race from the pole for the first time in his IndyCar career.
“But we’ve done great work, and sitting second in my third race starting in IndyCar, it’s pretty big,” Grosjean continued. “It is a tough championship. There’s super good talent here, super fast drivers.
“Yesterday I felt amazing in qually. This morning in the warmup we didn’t get quite it right and we made some changes for the race, and that worked well.
“I think I did a pretty good job at the first rolling start leading the field, kept myself first through the first corner and then the restart felt a little bit more natural to me, so that was good, as well, and the car was very, very nice. I still think there is a few areas we can work and improve. That’s what we’re going to do.”
So cool to lead the pack and fight for the win. Forgot how much I loved that. Thank you @IndyCar & @DaleCoyneRacing for reminding me. Now I want more 😁. Blue flags cost us a win but our day will come 💪.#r8g #us2021 #ThePhoenix @IMS @RickWareRacing pic.twitter.com/8iB1FNWIMK
— Romain Grosjean (@RGrosjean) May 16, 2021
And while Grosjean was incredibly happy to finish second, he was able to identify the challenge that may have cost him the victory. Lapped traffic, both in the pits and on track, denied Grosjean the opportunity to stay in contact with VeeKay at the end of the race.
“I think (VeeKay) still came out with a good lead and also I was behind two cars leaving the pit lane; back markers,” Grosjean said. “So it was a tough day in terms of overtaking people.
“I know it’s a really good track with a really good straight line, but when the lap cars are using their Push-to-Pass, it’s hard to get by, and then obviously you’re going to push harder on your tires and get a bit of a harder time, and you just can’t really do the pace you want.”
Once back on track for the final segment, Grosjean was stuck behind Sebastien Bourdais, who ended the GMR Grand Prix 19th as the first driver one lap off the pace. Bourdais was going just fast enough to keep Grosjean behind him, but slowly enough to allow VeeKay to build on his lead.
“I think every series is different, and you’ve got blue flags issued everywhere,” Grosjean said. “In Formula 1 I was shown the blue flags quite a bit over the last few years and it was terrible for us. The leader complained that it wasn’t good enough.
“Here today obviously I wish it was on more often because I was the guy that was chasing them, but it’s the rule that IndyCar uses. Is there room for improvement? Probably. Is there a perfect solution? No. But definitively I think traffic cost us the win today.
“I think the fact that the back marker can use the Push-to-Pass to defend from the leader, that’s a bit more annoying.”
Congrats to @RGrosjean on his first career @IndyCar podium!
What's he enjoying the most in his American excursion? "Leading races." pic.twitter.com/BwQSMjresy
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 15, 2021