He’d scored two poles and two runner-up finishes, even though he’d been taken out of the lead battle in the St Petersburg season opener by Scott McLaughlin, and crashed out late on in Texas after clipping David Malukas when set for his best-ever oval result.
“We should’ve been leading [the championship] before the Indy 500,” he tells Motorsport.com. “Then we got a bit unlucky. Mistakes were made, by myself and some others.”
Five months later, he went from title contender to ride-less, as his split from Andretti Autosport was finally confirmed via a lawsuit.
Led by Ricardo Juncos, a former Formula Renault driver who emigrated to America from Argentina in 2002 and ended up building an impressive team that rose all the way to IndyCar, the team gets a high-profile racer with an impressive racing resume and a point to prove.
“I think there’s a lot more to come from me, I think it’s a case of reset and bounce back,” says Grosjean. “Let’s see where we go with Juncos, let’s see what we can do. You never know what the future is like. I think, for Juncos, it’s a great opportunity to have me, I think for me it’s great to have Juncos. And let’s do something together.
“What I’ve seen from Ricardo is that he’s always giving his best to make things happen. And he knows that I will do the same.”
Grosjean admits he’s massively relieved to have found a seat, after his exit left him little scrambling time to look elsewhere, with the Juncos talks only starting around the Laguna Seca season finale: “Yeah, there was some fear. Especially in a situation where I didn’t talk to any other team until very late in the season. Most of the teams by then were fully booked.
“It was definitely a challenge to find a good spot for me to land. You have that risk that time has run out but I’m glad it worked out for me. So it was good that it all came together and I’m glad because I still want to go racing, I still love it.”
This new opportunity will allow Grosjean to have some time to reset before he has to go again, although pre-season testing with the Iron Lynx Lamborghini LMDh project has been keeping him cockpit-ready in the off season.
Personally, does he feel that a reset was needed?
“Again, time will tell because you never know really,” he says. “Of course, it’s good to be back after what happened, the whole situation with regards to Andretti – but I still have to thank them, because we did have some great times together. I just did not work out the way we had thought, so we try not to go there, but I still had a good time there.
“It’s important to say that we both wanted to win races and we did not do that. We came close a few times but for various reasons we didn’t achieve that. But it wasn’t all bad.”
In 34 races across the past two seasons with Andretti, Grosjean netted three runner-up finishes, five top fives and two poles. He finished 13th in the championship standings both years.
“It was a good start but then it didn’t fall the way we wanted it to. We had the wrong push going on and we didn’t manage to stop it in time. Then we kinda focused on winning races and not so much thinking about the championship, and that didn’t work at all.
“When the spiral gets going it’s very hard to stop in IndyCar because there’s so little time to reset, it’s not like you have a summer break and can take a deep breath on vacation, and think about what to do better, it’s just races after races after races.
“But we still had some good races. We had the potential to do really well at Gateway, Nashville and Laguna. We led some laps, there was some excitement in being up there in those races but it didn’t work out our way. I was lucky to have an amazing team around me in Olivier and all the other guys, and I’m going to miss them and I hope they will miss me too as we had fun together. It was just the situation meant it was… a bit heavy in the background.
After a long pause he adds: “We tried as hard as we could but we didn’t make it work as well as we wanted to, but I felt everyone gave their best.”
The Juncos factor
There’s little doubt that this is a marriage of convenience, as the ambitious Juncos looks to elevate its program with an experienced, high-profile driver – and Grosjean became available on the driver market at the last minute, much to Callum Ilott’s misfortune.
As a driver, Grosjean’s incessant passion for success is sometimes seen as a negative, but he sees this trait in Juncos and believes they can achieve good things together.
“What I like about Ricardo is that he is very passionate about his team,” says Grosjean. “It’s a big project that he’s had going for quite some time now, and he puts his heart and soul into it, which I really appreciate.
“He tries to do the best he can and hopefully we can grow together. It’s a newish team, I would say, so there’s still a lot to learn. And I’m excited by that challenge and to see what we can achieve together.”
The deal has come together so quickly that Grosjean isn’t even sure exactly how the team will look next year, in terms of its engineering plan: “I dunno yet. We’re keeping that very quiet, even inside the team, so I’m going to start meeting the guys on zoom and email this afternoon, and then I’m in Europe next week but I’ll come back through Indianapolis and see all the guys then.
“So far everything has been just about getting things rolling between us. I don’t think there’s going to be any testing this year, so my guess is we’ll be at Sebring early in 2024 like everyone else does! We have a big break between race one and race two, so there are possibilities there.”
One positive he does see in joining a smaller IndyCar team is the welcoming environment he discovered at Dale Coyne Racing, when he joined the series for his maiden season in 2021. Remember, even though they were regarded as minnows, Grosjean scored a trio of podium finishes – and he admits it was on his radar for a return.
“Dale’s was another team I talked to after the season,” he says. “I had an amazing time with Dale and his team. It’s difficult to compare because Juncos is a newer team and Dale is one of the longest veteran team bosses out there!
“From that aspect it’s different but when you sign for an Andretti, Ganassi or McLaren you expect to win races straight away. With Juncos or Dale, that’s not expected. But it still gives you a good chance.”
So what are the expectations?
“Keep building, keep growing the team. Learn from me, and for myself to keep improving – because I don’t think that ever stops in racing. Keep loving it, keep having fun.
“Let’s score some points and get as many top 10s as we can. And try to be consistently up there. Work on strategies, that’s a big part of IndyCar, to make the right calls, and work our way up that way.”
Another aspect will be a switch to Chevrolet power from Honda engines for the first time in his IndyCar career: “That’s going to be a bit part of this deal. I texted Honda yesterday to thank them for everything they’ve done for me.
“Honda was a big part of me joining IndyCar, David Salters and all his team have been absolutely amazing to me. So Chevrolet is going to be different but they’ve been doing a very good job in these last few years and with the hybrid coming that’s going to be new for everyone. I think that’s definitely going to be a bit challenge for everyone, including the drivers.
“From speaking to others, I know the Chevy has strengths and weaknesses compared to the Honda, so I’m excited to find out and there’s nothing better than trying it for yourself.”