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Romain Grosjean will shift his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career into gear this Thursday, March 18, four weeks earlier than planned, when Season 2 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge takes the green flag at 6:30 p.m. (ET) from virtual Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
This race, and the entire three-race virtual series that also includes events March 25 (Homestead-Miami oval) and April 1 (TBA fan-selected track), will be streamed live on INDYCAR.com, INDYCAR’s YouTube channel and Facebook page, and iRacing’s YouTube channel.
For rookie Grosjean, who is racing in all road and street course races this season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, it’s a familiar introduction to a new series. Grosjean is an avid sim racer and even owns an eSports team, R8G eSports, which fields virtual entries for 17 pro sim racers and five junior sim racers. In 2020, the team scored 45 wins and 103 podiums in the various leagues it entered.
Grosjean said he was an avid gamer up until 2011, when he stopped to focus on his Formula One career. But when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the industry to a halt and racing moved online in 2020, Grosjean dusted off his computer and got back to sim racing.
“I was a bit rusty, initially, but now I’m getting better and learning about it,” he said. “It’s been a great journey with lots to learn. It’s a very interesting world. There’s lots to do, and we generate lots of views and impressions. It’s a different generation than what watches racing, so for us it completely makes sense.”
R8G eSports has drivers competing in virtual versions of Formula E, British F3, GT racing and more. Grosjean said he wants to expand into NASCAR, and he’s had his eye on INDYCAR ever since last year’s INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, as he thinks Indy cars are some of the most fun vehicles to drive in iRacing.
His excitement for Thursday night’s event is high for two reasons. One, he has real-world experience at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in the form of eight F1 starts, with a best finish of second in his first race there in 2012. Secondly, he’s a racer at heart, and his ultra-competitive spirit makes him want to win.
“I love the circuit. It’s one of the best,” he said. “Actually, it could be a circuit that fits the real INDYCAR SERIES. (iRacing) did such a nice job and taking it to the next level. It is tough to go fast. It takes hours of practice, and we get so competitive. You think it’s just a video game, and then we spend eight, nine, 10 hours of practice for a short race. We are competitors, and we want to win. We are going to push it and try as hard as we can. It’s going to be great fun.”
Given his knack for sim racing and his love for the Montreal track, Grosjean figures to be a driver to watch Thursday night. But he admitted he also has his eye on some of his fellow drivers, specifically Alex Palou and Scott McLaughlin, who he knows have already been putting in time on the simulator.
Grosjean has been practicing in the simulator for a week now to learn the differences of the real track versus the virtual track. He’s had to retrain his driving technique a bit to adjust to the curbing in a couple corners and the lack of bumps on certain parts of the track.
The biggest challenge, however, might be the time difference. Grosjean will compete from his home in Switzerland. For him, the green flag will wave at 12:30 a.m., meaning the 34-year-old will adjust his sleep schedule to compete.
“I’m probably going to go to bed, wake up, turn on the sim, drive and then go back to bed,” Grosjean said.