Indycar Rookies Have Learned a Lot; Have Lots More to learn

Photo of Romain Grosjean by Chris Owens, Indycar

Indycar’s 2021 rookie class is unusual. Three drivers, successful in other major disciplines, older than the typical first year driver, have decided to take the plunge into Indycar. Scott McLaughlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Romain Grosjean spoke to the media yesterday during Indycar’s content day. Unlike past years where some of the rookies have moved up from Indy Lights with some knowledge of the cars and driving style required, the three newcomers come from NASCAR, Australian Supercars, and Formula 1. Two have multiple championships in their previous series.

All three are happy with their progress during pre-season testing, but all admit they have a long way to go to be competitive in the Indycar series.

Scott McLaughlin. Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

McLaughlin summed up the steep learning curve.

, “There’s a lot of things I’ve got to get used to. For instance, even just driving a turbo car. I’ve never really done that before in Australia. For me, I’m learning boost levels, aero maps, trusting aero, aerodynamics through corners and stuff.”

Jimmie Johnson by Chris Owens, Indycar

Johnson talked about driving an Indycar.

“…the intensity of driving that car. It’s a monster. That’s the best way I can put it. There’s so much power,so much downforce, so much grip. It’s wild to drive.”

He also said that gettintg the final 10 to 15 percent woukld the hardest to reach.

“But that last little bit, that’s what the elite guys are so good at and chase their whole career. I don’t know if I’ll get to100 percent with the amount of years that I have to give this a try, but there’s still so many things I haven’t even experienced yet. I’ve never been on a red tire. I’ve just recently had a chance to drive a street circuit tire and understand how much more grip it has versus a traditional road course tire.When you look at the street course tracks, I won’t even be able to drive on one until the practice, the opening practice session that we have prior to qualifying.”

Grosjean noted the different driving style needed for an Indycar compared to a formula 1 machine:

“I think it’s the driving style. It’sfairly different between Formula 1 and INDYCAR. Does itcome from the tires, the car, from the aero, the mechanicalgrip? I don’t really know. I just found that it was different todrive and to go fast.That’s something I really adapted between Barber andLaguna. I think I’m going to the simulator tomorrow beforeflying home. I think we’ve got some good tests that wewant to do with Dale Coyne and Honda, get as muchknowledge as we can before we start the season.”

Grosjean has a good understanding of where he is as far as driving this season. In spite of his 20 year racing career, he said,

“But I need to remind myself I’m a rookie. Even though I got 20 years experience in racing, I’m a rookie. From the rolling start to the refueling to the racetracks, there’s many,many things to learn.We will take step by step. We’ll see how things are going. But the whole team has been great helping me to find my marks. Honda has been really helpful as well in getting me up to speed, telling me all the procedures. The team has been really good.”

In spite of their success, or perhaps because of it, in other series, the 2021 Rookie class has a realistic perspective on what they can achieve this season. I’m impressed that this trio has made the decision to try a new type of racing.

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