Grosjean enrages Rahal with an aggressive touch at the end of the race
LEEDS, Ala. – The honeymoon is over for Romain Grosjean, and if Barber Motorsports Park had staged a boxing match, then Graham Rahal would have at least bloodied the IndyCar sweetheart.
Grosjean has worked his way through IndyCar since last year when ‘The Phoenix’ opted to race in the United States after recovering from the violent crash that nearly killed him in a spectacular Formula 1 wreck His scarred hands were part of a comeback story that appealed to Americans already familiar with the Frenchman’s F1 career via Netflix.
Without a win in 10 seasons, Grosjean was suspended a race ten years ago for his role in a crash and endured an unsatisfactory five seasons with American team Haas. Then he narrowly escaped death freeing himself from a fiery wreck with two races remaining in his F1 career.
An IndyCar community with an insatiable thirst for bright new stars has embraced The Phoenix as its own supernova.
Grosjean won the Most Popular Driver award in an offseason fan survey after just one year in IndyCar, and he now drives for one of IndyCar’s biggest teams. He runs the full schedule with Andretti Autosport, will make his Indianapolis 500 debut this month and will be looking to win the IndyCar championship.
Though he’s made costly mistakes on the track along the way — he misjudged Portland’s first corner last September, smashed Takuma Sato’s back at St. Pete in February — nothing caused a explosion as dramatic as his encounter with Rahal on Sunday in the closing laps at Barber.
The two were battling for seventh and eighth and Rahal felt he left enough room for Grosjean to have a fair race for the position. Instead, he alleged Grosjean intentionally hit him, then took it a step further by referring to Grosjean’s time in F1.
“Another pilot on the show said to me, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,’ and that’s kind of his reputation throughout his career in Europe,” Rahal said. “We quickly learn his reputation here. For me, if race control don’t want to do anything then they won’t do anything. But when we go to kick it they better not do anything to me, whereas in the past I I was penalized for much less than that.”
Rahal referenced this year’s season opener at St. Pete, where Grosjean finished fifth but was involved in a handful of incidents, including a freak collision during a practice session when he simply ran into the back of Sato’s car. At Barber, Rahal said his late-race showdown with Grosjean put him alongside Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta – two of Grosjean’s teammates – as the Grosjean drivers struck on Sunday.
“At St Pete he hit everyone he could touch,” Rahal fumed. “We come here, he hit Rossi, he hit Herta, he hit me. At some point we have to clean up our act.”
Grosjean acknowledged he had contact with Rahal – “we touched a few times” – but did not seem concerned about what he considered “a good run”.
“It’s a good race, I guess, it’s IndyCar. It’s a wheel-to-wheel race,” he said, denying Rahal’s claim that Grosjean deliberately hit him. . “I think it’s just a tough race. I was later on the brakes than him, there was a bit more grip on the outside, I was a bit deep in the corner. was a soft touch because it’s so hard to pass, there’s a lot of wheelie.”
It is the second prolific incident Rahal has had with an Andretti driver in just four races. Rahal and Helio Castroneves were destroyed in March at Texas Motor Speedway by Devlin DeFrancesco, an Andretti rookie who was penalized by IndyCar for the incident.
But the backlash after the crash was muted compared to Rahal’s rage at Grosjean, with the apparent difference that Rahal thinks 22-year-old DeFrancesco can still be taught by series veterans. His fuse was much shorter with Grosjean, and Rahal called him “punk” on his radio while alleging that Grosjean deliberately crashed into him.
Rahal has vowed to race Grosjean the same way, a threat that could weigh heavily on IndyCar as he heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the biggest month of his year.
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