Romain Grosjean adds an oval to his IndyCar schedule, enjoys ‘beautiful moments’ in U.S.


Romain Grosjean turned in his key to Indianapolis Motor Speedway – yes, he had his own key to the place – packed up his motorhome and left for Detroit, the next step in his next American adventure.

First, he rode his bike 10 laps around the historic speedway. He had the whole place to himself, after all.

The man who walked through fire and lived to tell about it fully has embraced his move from Formula One to IndyCar, where he won the pole in his third career start with Dale Coyne Racing then led 44 laps on the road course at Indianapolis before finishing second.

The roar of appreciation from the limited crowd of spectators last month was like nothing the Frenchman had heard before, not even after nine seasons and 10 podiums in F1.

“One of the most beautiful moments that I’ve ever experienced was I finished second and I did the interview for the crowd and everyone stood up and cheered for me,” Grosjean told The Associated Press as he drove his motorhome Tuesday to Belle Isle for this weekend’s doubleheader.

“I’ve been on the podium in Formula One but I had never seen so much energy and love coming from the grandstands,” he said. “Even my wife, she cried watching at home. She said, `Everything you have been doing the last six months, people I guess realize and love that.’ It’s a hell of a journey and it’s a beautiful journey.”

Romain Grosjean celebrates after winning the pole position during qualifying for the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports).

Grosjean was nearly killed Nov. 29 in Bahrain when his F1 car slammed into a barrier, split apart and burst into flames. He was trapped for almost 30 seconds – his family watching on television didn’t seem him free himself from the wreckage and emerge from the ball of fire for nearly three, his hands badly burned, but alive when so many feared the worst.

He’s since updated his social media bio to proclaim himself both “fire resistant” and “The Phoenix.”

The crash marked the end of his F1 career – he was already losing his seat with Haas F1 – and he’s now the latest driver to leave Europe for a move to IndyCar. Similar to fellow IndyCar rookie Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion, Grosjean committed only to the road and street course races.

Then he watched the Indianapolis 500 on television in Switzerland with his family and, just like Johnson, has had a change of heart. Romain Grosjean told the AP he will make his IndyCar oval debut at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway outside St. Louis in August and then make a decision on next year’s Indy 500 with his family.

“The first step, it is strange to be home watching it and not being part, knowing your friends are doing it,” Grosjean said. “So we’ll see what the situation is and then family-wise what do we think of doing. Initially I said I did not want to do ovals, now I would like to try one and then see if I want to do more.”

Conor Daly took Grosjean to dinner Sunday night in Indianapolis and gave him the phone number for Doug Boles, president of IMS and Daly’s stepfather, presumably so Grosjean could return the track key. The two talked about the Indy 500.

“The biggest thing that I notice is that he hates watching,” said Daly. “He’s like, `I can’t wait to get back in it.’ He’s embracing it as much as possible, which is really, really cool … That’s the first time I’ve heard a driver being given the key to the racetrack to just live there.”

Grosjean so far has been living in a motorhome that he’s taken to his first three IndyCar races and parked in the IMS infield, which gave him access to all of its amenities including a clear track for his Tuesday morning bike ride.

“It’s great, you have all the room you want, there’s no traffic so you don’t have to worry about people hitting you, and I also just wanted to do it for the experience,” Grosjean said.

He will drive the motorhome from Detroit to races at Road America in Wisconsin and then Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and his wife and three children at last will join him in the United States on July 4 for a monthlong tour of America in the bus. Then his kids will see their dad race in his first IndyCar event in August at Nashville.

Grosjean saved every hat he was given for the podium photographs to bring home to his children from the Indianapolis runner-up finish for them to pick.

“They were very happy with that, and they were genuinely happy to see Daddy on the podium,” Grosjean said. “Even though my two sons were born when I was on my last podium, one was 2 years old and one was three months, and they have no memory of it and they call me every day and can’t wait to come.”

Grosjean has said that 2013 was the last time he enjoyed going to the racetrack as much as he does now. Part of that is because he wasn’t in competitive cars in F1 and knew he never had a chance to win races.

But his crash in Bahrain has given him a new perspective on life, and his passion for racing has returned in a new country with a new series. He needs another skin graft on his left hand that he anticipates will happen in October and thinks he would be healed in time to compete in January in the Rolex 24 at Daytona because Grosjean now wants to add IMSA’s three endurance sports car races to his schedule.

He was stopped 10 times in downtown Chicago by fans asking for selfies, he said, and he could not be more pleased with his decision to move to IndyCar.

“When you are passionate about something and it is like a fire, and maybe that fire has been shaken down through the last few years, but when you get a pole and you are leading a race again, it’s like, `Hell yeah,’ ” he said. “It’s hard to do, but when you do it you want to do it again.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).