BY BRUCE MARTIN | Speed Sport
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Race drivers are often referred to as “pilots.” In Romain Grosjean’s case, that description is entirely accurate.
The former Formula One driver from Geneva, Switzerland who drives the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport got his pilot’s license during the offseason.
Let’s have him explain.
“I got bored waiting in the airports, so I thought I was going to fly myself and do my pilot’s license,” Grosjean said. “It’s actually something I wanted to do for a long time. It was very complicated in Europe to do the pilot license, to go to the ground school twice a week, and with our life it’s impossible. I decided to tackle it and went through it pretty fast, so having a lot of fun with that.”
Grosjean prepares for his third season in the NTT IndyCar Series in Sunday’s season-opening race – the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
It’s part street course and part airport course, incorporating a runway on the Albert Whitted Airport on Tampa Bay.
“I went twice at St. Pete just to land on the start-finish line, and that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said of his airplane. “The guy in air traffic control was like, ‘Yeah, left on acre five, turn, and then back.’ I was like, ‘oh, yeah, going over the race track, I’ll take it.’
“It was quite funny.”
Grosjean wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 years old. At 36, he realized his aviation dream.
He flew in Alexander Rossi’s plane to some races last year when both were at Andretti Autosport.
“I thought, ‘OK, I’ll look into it,’” he explained. “I found a school that I could learn theory online."
“I actually started doing the theory in Nashville. That’s when I started getting the first book online, and since then I’ve done my private pilot license, my multiengine license, my instrument flight rating license, and I’ve got 115 hours of flight time, I think.
“Commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger Penske.
“Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”
For this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Grosjean drove his RV to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, left it in the driver/owner motorhome lot and flew back to his home in Miami. He then flew back to Daytona for the Rolex 24.
“I’m definitely going to fly to St. Pete, and pretty much everywhere I can,” Grosjean said. “If the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying.”
When Grosjean left Formula One to come to America for a career in IndyCar in 2021, he wanted to see the United States in all of its glory. So, he bought a motorhome, where his family lived as they toured the country.
That motorhome was also parked in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Grosjean’s became near full-time residents before moving to Miami.
“There is one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” Grosjean said. “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible.
“It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary, if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.
“I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here.
“It’s been the best discovery for us.”
Grosjean plans on flying his own plane to most of the races on the schedule. He has found some creative ways to make long trips, such as a three fuel stop flight to Laguna Seca (Calif.), easier to schedule by combining it with another race weekend.
“I’m coming to Portland with it because then we go to Laguna and then I fly back,” he said. “Portland is a two-day trip. It’s about 10 hours in the middle with one stop in the middle, sleep in, and then fly over the Rockies the next day and get a beautiful view of the U.S.”
When Grosjean is behind the wheel of his No. 28 DHL Honda, he is in fierce competition on the track with his fellow IndyCar Series competitors.
But when he is flying his plane, Grosjean feels a quiet serenity.
“It’s freedom,” he said. “Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. I took my wife for lunch in Key West last week. 37 minutes to go, 41 on the way back, and we’re in Key West, as far as you can get South in the U.S.
“We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere.
“I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”