INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean were both within a few laps of completing all three phases of the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program before a deluge of rain flooded the track Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Formula One veteran Grosjean, in the No. 28 DHL Honda with Andretti Autosport for the first time, was two laps short of completing all 15 laps in the third and final phase (15 laps at 215 mph plus). Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson was 10 laps short of completing Phase 3.
By passing the first two phases, both drivers can complete the third and final phase of ROP with other cars on the race course as long as they maintain their prescribed speed. Once they pass the final phase, they will be cleared to run unrestricted speed in practice and qualifications for the 106th Indianapolis 500.
Wednesday’s Rookie Orientation Program was originally scheduled to run from Noon to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. The threat of rain in the afternoon led IndyCar officials to move the start of Rookie Orientation Program to 10:30 a.m. ET.
Johnson was on the start of his sixth lap in the morning when it began to rain, leading officials to turn on the yellow caution light. Grosjean had completed one and a half laps.
“It was a six-lap tease,” Johnson said at the time to SPEED SPORT. “It was nice to work into things. As the tires came up to temp, I could see the potential in the car. I was trying to hit that target lap time and clock laps, but then the rain came, and it didn’t work out.”
The rain increased, but IMS and IndyCar officials were able to dry the track in time to open the track shortly after 3 p.m.
Both Johnson and Grosjean sailed through Phase 1 (10 laps at 205-210 mph) and Phase 2 (15 laps at 210-215) before beginning the third and final phase.
Rain clouds began to move into Indianapolis and the two drivers ran out of time before the track was soaked with a downpour.
It stopped raining at 4:30 p.m. ET – not enough time to completely dry the track and have enough daylight to complete Phase 3.
Prior to completing his first two phases, Grosjean discussed his efforts with SPEED SPORT.
“I didn’t do much this morning, but it felt OK,” Grosjean said. “It was very smooth. You have to respect the place a lot, so I took it carefully. It felt OK and I was ready to do more.
“The rain may stop. We have until 6 p.m. and if not, we run another day. I really want to make it happen because I’m going back to Europe for surgery (skin graft on left hand from the burns he suffered in Formula One last season). Plus, I’m moving houses so it would be good to get it done.
“At the speed I was going into Turn 1 it wasn’t that bad, but when you trim out and go faster in qualifying, it will definitely look different going 40 miles an hour faster.”
Grosjean continues to feel the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Wednesday was the first day he was on the IMS oval.
“I came here last year for my medical test, and I entered the speedway and was amazed by the atmosphere and the energy that comes from this place,” Grosjean said. “I love the place. When you come from Europe, it’s difficult to understand, but when you come the first time, you understand that. My wife was amazed when she came here, too.”
Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe, who is not expected to have a ride with the team next season, worked on the team radio with Grosjean.
“It was super cool that James came here and took the time and gave me advice,” Grosjean said. “I love that about IndyCar. It’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with the series. We have a good relationship as drivers, but then we put our helmets on and its racing. When we are out of the car, everyone gets along and it’s very nice.
“When I was at Dale Coyne, it was good to have Jimmy Vasser around and today it was good to have James Hinchcliffe on the radio to tell me what to do and what not to do.”
Grosjean, who will drive for Andretti Autosport next season, believes he has all of the tools to win races and challenge for the championship in 2022 so next season actually began on Wednesday.
“Yes,” the Frenchman said. “We will work hard and try to do our best and see what comes out. A championship is always long, and a lot of things happen.
“I have the team. I have the capacity. Now, it’s about putting it all together and getting the best out of it.”