Three years ago this month, Romain Grosjean defied death.
A frightening crash in Bahrain, on the opening lap during the third-to-last race of the 2020 Formula One season saw his car literally drive through a guardrail and split in two, then becoming engulfed in fire. Remarkably, Grosjean walked out of the flames and into the calming hands of the safety team.
A little less than three years later, Grosjean signed a deal to join his third NTT INDYCAR SERIES team in the last four seasons, this time with Juncos Hollinger Racing in its No. 77 Chevrolet. Not only is the 37-year-old Swiss-born Frenchman still racing, he’s doing so at the highest level.
Time heals. Wounds close. Racers race.
Like the previous two seasons, he’ll race full time in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, including ovals. But Grosjean will be in different colors in 2024, driving for the small team co-owned by Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger. It’s a similar situation to his rookie year in 2021, when he drove in road- and street-course races for Dale Coyne Racing with RWR before heading to Andretti Global for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
Grosjean said the deal with JHR was done pretty late in the game. The first discussion came in early September at Portland, then WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and continued into the early days of the offseason.
“Got to a point where we found an agreement,” Grosjean said. “Excited to go racing again in INDYCAR. As you know, I really enjoy the series. I really enjoy the atmosphere.
“Of course, it's a new challenge, a bit different than the last two years. I mean, I'm excited about trying to keep building the momentum of Juncos. I think the last few races they've done really well. Excited to see what we can do together. I think on top of joining a new team, it will be a challenge for all of us, but nothing that we're scared of.”
Still, Grosjean feels pressure, just as he did with Andretti and Coyne. He wants to succeed and make this move work, including earning his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory after five runner-up finishes.
“The pressure is on, but the pressure is on for myself,” Grosjean said. “I feel like I can still win races, feel like I can still be very competitive. I want to do that.
“I left Formula One because I felt like I just didn't want to be on the grid to be on the grid. I wanted to be competitive. There was no option. Coming to INDYCAR, I felt like I could be competitive with Coyne, I could be competitive with Andretti. I'm hoping we can be competitive about Juncos Hollinger and do well. We're all going to do our best. We're all going to work as hard as we can, and time will tell if it was the right move or not.”
In 13 starts during his debut season in 2021, Grosjean recorded four top-five finishes, six top-10s and led 53 laps. Over 34 races at Andretti, he produced five top-five finishes, 10 top-10s and led 97 laps. He has three poles in his three seasons.
But there is a difference this time as he moves to JHR. He’s a series veteran, with experience and track knowledge. He is the senior member of the lineup, as teammate Agustin Canapino just finished his rookie season.
“Yeah, I definitely have a big experience in INDYCAR,” he said. “Saying that, it's never easy to fine-tune things. You've seen how competitive the field is, how tight it is time-wise. You just need to, if you want to do well, nail everything and be on top of it.
“I'm not expecting to repeat the pole position from St. Petersburg 2023. We're going to try, but I'm not expecting that. Maybe we repeat that straightaway, but also I think it's going to be my 25th season of racing next year, professionally, since 2010. That experience is valuable. I'm hoping to bring it in the right way, in a good way, but also to listen to what was done at Juncos.
“I think over the last four races of the 2023 season they did really well, and they were very competitive. I'm actually excited to discover something new and maybe putting a little bit of my sauce on top of it.”