IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

PALM SPRINGS, California. The IndyCar pilot known as “Phoenix” has already flown ahead of the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start in the first season.

Fulfilling a dream for which it had been preparing for several years, Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training during the off-season. Starting with online training last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to multi-engine licenses and instrument qualifications, with 115 flight hours.

He landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose main runway doubles as the front on the street circuit of the Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg.

“Just landing at the start-finish line was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during the IndyCar Preseason Content Days. before the test on February 2-3 at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy is like, ‘Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, then back. I thought, “Oh yes, this is the last corner of the race track, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane.” He’s like, “Oh, yes, yes, it’s true.” So it was pretty funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30, but was discouraged by the complicated and time-consuming licensing process in Europe (“going to ground school twice a week, which is impossible with our lives”). Last year, he was again inspired by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who raced in 2022 after getting his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who was “tired of waiting at airports.”

He plans to fly to almost every race this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll fly”) and jokes that “by the end of the year it will be commercial, so then I can take Roger (Penske) with me. Roger can pay me to take him to the races if something goes wrong with the races.

Grosjean’s social media was filled with posts about his new passion, which gave him the opportunity to recently take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes back, and it showed why Grosjean loves to fly: “Freedom. The freedom to go anywhere, anytime. That’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want. Anywhere. I think it’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the van journey through the Midwest that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of the 2021 rookie season.

Romain Grosjean during IndyCar pre-season testing at The Thermal Club (Matthew Ashton – AMA/).

“There’s one thing I said to my kids and my friend about America, and to me that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here: everything is possible here,” said Grosjean (whose nickname “Phoenix” comes from facing death in his last start of Formula 1).

“If you have the will, if you give yourself the opportunity to do it, anything is possible. In Europe it’s different. There are many more borders along the way. There are many more steps that need to be done in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t have to take those steps because you can work on them.

“Yes, I like to do something, and when I do it, I like to do it well. But here I think just being able to drive a van, fly planes so that my kids can do whatever they want, we love it here. Yes, it was the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman has already raced this year. taking off on the coast of Florida for his Rolex 24 debut in Daytona last month. It was his debut as a works Lamborghini driver and his new contract will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly Little Le Mans, while he also helps the automaker develop a new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing in the 2022 points table with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Termal and Grosjean (who finished fourth on the first day) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes IndyCar’s schedule will allow him to compete in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and arguably his longest airplane flight ever, back in time for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we’re spending the weekend in IndyCar,” Grosjean said, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think that would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get into Le Mans, that’s great too, because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic racing Monaco and the Indy 500 and those guys, they were racing all over the place, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They raced at the opening of the Formula 1 race and I think it’s very cool for us.

“So yeah, looking forward to the project. There will be a lot of development. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”

Last week, Red Bull Racing unveiled its new RB19 car and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. at an event in New York that featured riders Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez and team principal Christian Horner.

This is the first Formula One team to arrive in the United States in 2023, but even this slight movement of the arrow reflects a major shift in both Formula One leadership and their teams, and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique that the sport can make its way into the US,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the riders, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez US
Sergio Perez finished fourth at the US Grand Prix, but among the fans he was the first. – Jared S. Tilton/

In 2023, Formula 1 will host three races in the US and five times in North America. Circuit of the Americas will host its 11th straight race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock Cafe, with a third addition in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix scheduled for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix for November, the American fans are now on par with the Europeans, who have eight competitions on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. Only George Russell, who won in Brazil, kept him from covering the hemisphere. This fact is less remarkable when you consider that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – almost two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had completed its second championship in a row.

“Sometimes it’s hard to replicate a season, but I think it’s the same as with a car, right? You’re always trying to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always pay attention to the little details: even if you had a good race, you could have done better. And then, of course, you also learn from bad races. So we always try to look for those little improvements and the overall experience you get year after year.

“You’re trying to do better, but of course that also depends a lot on your package.”

Verstappen Perez US
Max Verstappen’s victory at the US Grand Prix was one of 15 for drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora/NurPhoto via)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to the creation of a dynasty, with America once again playing a central role.

“I just enjoy what I do,” Verstappen said. “After many years in Formula 1, when you have to be at the top of your game and gain a lot of experience – in this sense, nothing can stop you anymore. Every year you just try to do your best. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season in good shape and be well prepared. But if you don’t have a car, you won’t win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total in Monaco and at the Marina Bay Street track. With two 2023 races in the US on street circuits, Pérez is looking to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially become his main championship contender.

“The strategy is clear; it’s maximizing the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good is it?” Perez said. We don’t know what the competitors are doing. We’re just doing our best to build this car and hope it’s good enough that we can win races.

“I think we should work together as a team. In the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just a good compromise. The competition there will be very strong, so we really need everything that we can get from each other.”

Formula 1 returns to the US for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7th.


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