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Romain Grosjean ‘knocking on the door’ and ready to burst through with first IndyCar win

From real French food to his collection of race suits, there is plenty that IndyCar driver Romain Grosjean wants you to know.

INDIANAPOLIS – Romain Grosjean is off to an impressive start in the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series for Andretti Autosport. He enters Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix fifth in points, just 15 points behind the leader, defending Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing.

He is only four points behind his newest rival, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, for fourth place.

Through four races this season, Grosjean has two poles and two second-place finishes in the No. 28 DHL Honda and likely should have already been to victory lane.

Therein lies the crux with the talented and likable driver from Geneva, Switzerland, who is also a French citizen.

The veteran of nearly a decade in Formula One has displayed tremendous speed and flashes of brilliance, but victory in IndyCar continues to elude him. In fact, it’s been more than a decade since Grosjean has won a race of any kind.

That could come to an end in Saturday’s 10th GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I’m a race car driver. Give me a race car, and I’ll try to win the race,” Grosjean told NBC Sports.

The IMS road course is where he won his first pole in 2021 – the same season Grosjean scored two second-place finishes on the IMS road course (at the GMR Grand Prix and again in the Aug. 14 race.

In a career that is filled with “woulda, coulda, shouldas” team owner Michael Andretti is confident this is the race where Grosjean finally can make it to Victory Lane.

“He is knocking on the door and once he gets through it, he can knock out three or four wins here this year if things go right,” Andretti told NBC Sports before qualifying Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “He’s got a lot of self-confidence, but he’s really a nice guy, a down-to-earth guy. DHL loves him. He’s a good guy.

“We have to control his excitement and keep him calm. When he does that, he does his best work.

“Romain is doing a great job. A big turnaround from last year. I’m really proud of him.”

In Friday’s qualifications for the race that kicks off the racing activities leading to the May 28 Indianapolis 500, however, the emotional side of Grosjean was on full display.

He failed to advance out of the second group in the first segment and was irate after climbing out of the No. 28 DHL Dallara-Honda, declining an interview request from an NBC Sports pit reporter.

Visibly angry and flailing his arms at the timing stand over how his car didn’t have the speed he thought it had, this was the sign of how excitement can get the best of the driver.

His time of 1:10.0747 around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was not the speed Grosjean was expecting.

“We haven’t found the speed that we wanted today so we are going to work tonight,” Grosjean said in a team release. “We know that with IndyCar, everything is about the race, and anything can happen. Hopefully tomorrow we can score some good points, but so far it’s been a bit of a difficult day for the DNS Filter / DHL Honda.”

Grosjean starts 18th on Saturday and will have to be highly creative to make his way to the front.

But as teammate Colton Herta proved in last year’s GMR Grand Prix race in the rain when he started 14th and won, it can be done.

Grosjean certainly has made an impact in his third season in IndyCar, his second full season with Andretti Autosport.

He was a major contender for the victory in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, starting on the pole, and leading 31 laps.

But it was a fantastic, side-by-side battle with McLaughlin after both drivers had made pit stops and were racing for what was essentially the lead of the race that ended badly.

Both cars touched and both crashed into the tire barrier. McLaughlin was able to continue but was out of contention for the victory.

Grosjean’s race, however, was over.

In the last race of the season, the April 30 Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park, Grosjean once again started on the pole and led a race-high 57 laps.

But once again, he was battling McLaughlin.

The Team Penske driver was able to wrestle the lead from the Honda driver with 19 laps to go in another thrilling side-by-side battle. Combine that with Grosjean on a fuel-saving strategy while McLaughlin could push the accelerator as hard as he wanted by using a three-stop strategy.

In addition, Grosjean was out of “push-to-pass” opportunities while McLaughlin still had time to spare.

Second place was another frustrating finish for the Frenchman.

“The two races we finished this year twice second,” Grosjean said afterward. “We’re knocking on the door, and eventually the door will open. So, I am not too worried.

“It’s super competitive, it’s tough. We have to push every single lap hard. Today they did a better job on the strategy.

“You know what, you need to do everything perfect to win. Today we didn’t have the right strategy. It is what it is. Control what you can control.

“That’s what we did.

“We executed very well this weekend. We had a fast car. Got pole. 20 seconds ahead of the two stoppers on the race finish. That shows how fast we were. We just didn’t have the right strategy today, so...

“I’d say we were not too bad. Put me P5 in the championship. Big picture, yes, I wanted to win today, it hurts to not do it. We have a lot more occasions. If I can win Indy and the 500, it would be good.”

Before the Indianapolis 500, comes the GMR Grand Prix.

Grosjean is determined of finally answering the question by delivering with a win on Saturday.

“Well, I think I’m going to finally win a race so the question stop being asked,” Grosjean quipped Thursday during a media availability at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Barber was close. Close in St. Pete. Scottie (McLaughlin) and I had a really good fight. Barber was fun. The team has done such a tremendous job from last year being good. Three out of four pole positions as a team. Haven’t qualified well on a road course or street course so far. Pretty decent.

“We’re here. The win is going to come whenever it comes. If you finish every time like this, it’s going to be good for the championship.

“We just keep going.”

It was back in 2020 during the next-to-last Formula One race of the season when a major chapter in Grosjean’s career was written in flames.

It was a God-awful, frightening fiery crash through the Armco barrier at the Bahrain Grand Prix. It was the start of the race, and the impact separated the car in two.

The car caught on fire and had penetrated through the guardrail. The driver’s hands were badly burned, but according to Grosjean, the Formula One Halo had saved his life.

That was the end of his Formula One career, but he had already made the decision to leave the series and join Dale Coyne Racing with RWR for a street and road course ride in IndyCar in 2021.

Despite the lack of results in Formula One, Grosjean’s fierce racing style made him an instant fan favorite in the NTT IndyCar Series. He added an oval race to the 2021 schedule when he competed at World Wide Technology Raceway that August.

Both Andretti Autosport and DHL were interested in luring Grosjean to the team once Ryan Hunter-Reay announced he was leaving the operation at the end of 2021.

Grosjean moved over to the No. 28 and was now in a car capable of winning race.

Unfortunately, the 2022 season was one of disappointment for Grosjean and Andretti.

He finished 13th in points and had some personality clashes with Alexander Rossi and others at Andretti Autosport.

Fast forward to this season, and the four-driver contingent of Colton Herta, Kyle Kirkwood, Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco are getting along much better.

“Yes, and they get along really well, which is really cool,” Andretti said. “There is no tension in the engineering room anymore.

“Last year was a little different.

“We’ve made some changes within the team, and it has been really positive.”

Rossi had departed for Arrow McLaren Racing, where he is teammates with Pato O’Ward of Mexico and Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden.

Team chemistry is very important in racing and Andretti believes he has the right formula with his drivers in 2023.

“Romain is doing a great job,” Andretti said. “It’s a big turnaround from last year. I’m really proud of him.

“I don’t think he is driving better because of his contract situation (this is the final year of his contract at Andretti Autosport). He is driving much better, for sure, after this year.

“He has worked on a lot of things with himself and has changed his attitude on some things and it has been very positive.

“On the driver side of it, everybody is getting along very well and that helps.”

So here is Grosjean, with a tremendous opportunity to be a winner in IndyCar, possibly as soon as Saturday.

It would be a success story a decade or two in the making.

“Was I expecting to be so successful? Yes,” Grosjean said. “I think I’m one of the best around this job. I won every championship before getting Formula One. Never sadly got the chance to have the car to win races. Was close a few times.

“Yes, I think I’m pretty decent at what I do. That’s what I love doing, as well. It works pretty well.

“It’s all about building and working and doing the best you can.”

It’s the “Month of May” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the GMR Grand Prix serves as the appetizer to the main course that will come on May 28 with the 107th Indianapolis 500.

That’s the race that Grosjean is preparing for the most, but a win on the road course at IMS could provide him the momentum to succeed in the Indy 500.

The quest for that victory begins with Tuesday’s first day of practice followed by qualifications on Saturday and Sunday and the race on Memorial Day Sunday.

“I’m looking forward to get back on track at the Indy 500 after last year,” said Grosjean, who started ninth but finished 31st after a crash in the race. “I really didn’t know what to expect in 2022. I’m better prepared in 2023.

“We’ve also made a lot of progress as a team on the oval car. I feel much more comfortable in it. The Open Test was decent. I’m very much looking forward to the Qually, which is always a very exciting moment, but Race Day as well.

“We all say it’s the same race as everybody else, but it’s not. It’s a very unique race.”

He is confident he is on the right team that can give him a chance to win the biggest race in the world, and a victory that would set him apart from the other drivers he has competed against throughout his career.

“I think we can do well,” Grosjean said. “We can do well everywhere. That is what we have proven so far. I know what we have done and how much progress we have made in the car compared to last year.

“I can tell you we are in a much better spot than we were one year ago.”

He is also in a much better spot in his career and his life than where he was as a struggling driver in Formula One driving for Haas F1 and others in his nine-year career.

Grosjean didn’t grow up with the Indianapolis 500, but he certainly understands what it would mean to his career.

“It means like Le Mans 24,” Grosjean told NBC Sports. “It means like Monaco Grand Prix. It’s one of those races. It’s a very unique one in its own aspect, because of the track layout and the grandstands and where the fans are.

“If you had told me when I was 10 years old, I would compete in the Monaco Grand Prix, I would compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and going back at in the No. 1 category in 2024 and competing with Andretti Autosport at the Indianapolis 500, I would have told you there was no way that would happen

“But here we are. It’s happening and I have much more go at it.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500