IndyCar 2022 preview: Romain Grosjean’s Andretti move tops drivers joining new teams
Even before the first lap in his new elite NTT IndyCar Series ride, life already has been a little easier for Romain Grosjean this year.
The Swiss-born Frenchman who became a fan favorite last year as an emerging star no longer needs to use his American-friendly middle name (David) in trying to simplify his coffee order at Starbucks.
“I was able to download the app because now I’ve got an American phone number,” Grosjean, who moved his family from Europe to the Miami area in the offseason, told NBC Sports with a laugh. “So now because I order it in advance, it just comes with the right name.”
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But the correct pronunciation?
“No,” Grosjean said with a laugh.
Perhaps that final piece of name recognition will come with the move to Andretti Autosport, where Grosjean, 35, will race the full 2022 season after an impressive rookie campaign on road and street courses for Dale Coyne Racing.
Transitioning from a decade of racing Formula One, Grosjean immediately adapted to IndyCar, winning the pole position for his third start and finishing second in May on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He also fell for America during a monthlong tour of the Midwest with his wife and three kids in a motorhome (his two young boys now will play baseball after being introduced in batting cages last summer).
“I could tell that they were really happy being here, and that just triggered everything,” he said. “We found a school for the kids, found a house and moved in at the end of December in Florida, and we’re just loving it.”
It was a whirlwind year that started with near-tragedy when Grosjean escaped death in a terrifying crash at Bahrain. The fiery wreck ended his F1 career but also led to his rebranding as “The Phoenix,” and the comeback story was appealing to an IndyCar fan base that also appreciated his success.
“The fans last year were unbelievable, and I can’t wait to see them again this year,” he said. “I hope they’re going to keep embracing the rise of ‘The Phoenix.’ It was incredible. Even Long Beach when I retired (in 24th because of a crash), I was sitting on a pit wall, and I was disappointed because I didn’t want the season to end that way. And then all the grandstands facing my pit box went up and started shouting my name and clapping. And I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ Just from a terrible day, it just became a good day.”
With some measure of confusion (after becoming accustomed to their father struggling in F1 over the past five seasons), Grosjean’s children got to witness the fervor at the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee.
“They saw all the crowd screaming, ‘Grosjean! Grosjean!’, so they were asking me, ‘Why is everyone calling you?’ It was quite cute,” Grosjean said. “Actually seeing Daddy competing at the front and fighting with the top guys in IndyCar, they absolutely loved it.”
Though he had 10 podiums in F1, his last was in 2015 and nearly all were before his kids were born. This season will be his first in more than a decade to compete for a championship with “all the ingredients to be able to fight at the front” with Andretti.
Grosjean, who also brought engineer Olivier Boisson along from Coyne, will be teamed with Colton Herta (who won the final two races of 2021) and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.
“It’s great to have so many teammates at Andretti with guys that have been winning the 500, winning street and road courses, fighting a championship,” Grosjean said. “It’s just going to be great to have all those guys that I can share information with. I’m looking forward to drive next to them and see how I can improve myself, because I think that’s the beauty of sports and motorsports is that you can always try to get better.”
Grosjean’s jump to Andretti is among a few high-profile switches in IndyCar this season. A look at some other drivers with new digs for 2022:
JACK HARVEY, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
No other driver has seemed more on the verge of his first NTT IndyCar Series victory than Harvey, but he still missed the podium during his first two full-time seasons at Meyer Shank Racing – and was burned multiple times by some curious strategy calls.
“To be honest, that wasn’t lost on me when it came time to make the decision,” Harvey told NBC Sports about his move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the 2022 season. “We had a lot of bad luck. That being said, we had a lot of bad decisions. You look at the unfortunate things that happened, it was maybe 50-50, some bad luck, some bad decisions. We needed to do a better job controlling what you can control.”
Harvey, 28, seized control by leaving his comfort zone. The Brit made his IndyCar debut with MSR in 2017 and had progressed in lockstep with co-owners Mike Shank and Jim Meyer as the team gradually became a series fixture. He will leave all those ties behind in the move to RLL, which he weighed heavily with management and family.
#THENEXTCHAPTER is here— Jack Harvey (@jack_harvey93) October 11, 2021
I am extremely proud to join @RLLracing for 2022 & beyond. I am absolutely buzzing for this opportunity! Thank you Bobby, Mike, David and Piers for the trust you have put in me. And it’s an honour to represent @HyVee on this new challenge! Bring it on! pic.twitter.com/fB46L7ufvJ
“It felt like a step forward for me and my racing career,” Harvey said. “It was just an evolving conversation between me, my parents, my manager, and I think we all just felt like this was a great opportunity.
“It doesn’t feel like there’s more pressure, but I would say there’s no safety net. Being with Mike and Jim and my relationship with (sponsors) AutoNation and SiriusXM, maybe there was a little more of a safety net. But it was something that we chatted about and kind of just disregarded. I just want to be in the best place where I can try and get results, and I wanted the pressure to be on myself so that I’m responsible for my destiny. I’m in a place where I want to be.”
SIMON PAGENAUD, Meyer Shank Racing
After winning the 2016 championship and 2019 Indy 500 in seven seasons at Team Penske, Pagenaud will take a bigger leadership role at Meyer Shank Racing with teammate Helio Castroneves (who will move full time after winning last year’s Indy 500 debut) in the team’s expansion to a second car.
It’ll be a major culture shift in moving from a storied team with 18 Indy 500 wins to an organization that still is ramping up operations at a new shop in Pataskala, Ohio. But Pagenaud (who also became a first-time father last year) relishes the opportunity as “big new chapter in my career” and “a natural match” for leveraging his experience.
“Team Penske’s a huge organization, has 54 years of experience and amazing people on board with experience at all levels, and obviously there’s a philosophy of work, and it works for them,” Pagenaud, 37, told NBC Sports. “It’s a great team. The last seven years if you look at the records we had, it was phenomenal. Now I’ve moved on to a new part of my racing life, and was very attracted to this project.
“Just taking a bigger role within a team, having the chance to be there a bit more on a daily basis and say, ‘Listen, I think we should be doing this for the future, for the development of our car and the team. This guy is really good. We should hire him’ and so on.
“It’s little things, but it’s daily discussions I have with (co-owners) Mike Shank and Jim Meyer that I didn’t have a say in at Penske because they’re established and have their way of doing things, and that’s totally fine. And what I’m seeing now is an opportunity for me to grow into a bigger role within the team and take that leadership driver role alongside Helio and try to make the team a top team.”
TAKUMA SATO, Dale Coyne Racing
After racing from 2018-21 in his second stint with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Sato will be driving for his fifth team in IndyCar.
The two-time Indy 500 winner turned 45 last month but said he feels as fit as ever entering his 13th consecutive season in IndyCar. Sato’s six career victories all have come since turning 40.
“I know the time will come in the end, but this is motor racing, and there’s lots of other pieces that can come with it,” Sato told NBC Sports. “And at least for me, physically and mentally, I feel still like I’m improving. So until the day maybe I will feel differently, then I want to keep continue the challenge and certainly this is not coming for 2022. It’s just another exciting year, so I feel really good about it.”
Coyne’s last win was in 2018, but the team was strong on road courses last year with Grosjean.
“I’m expecting to have a big challenge,” Sato said. “In a way it’s positive, but at the same time, it can be quite difficult. I’m expecting some hard times, too, but the motivation is very high and I’m sure there’s no reason why we can’t be competitive from St. Petersburg straightaway.”