With fast, smooth, and sweeping turns, Romain Grosjean felt right at home with the Euro-style Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing rookie shot to P5 in the opening practice session in the No. 51 Honda, remained close in the second session with seventh among the 25 entries, and kept two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and Team Penske leader Josef Newgarden from earning pole on his first run at the 2.4-mile circuit.

“All the tracks I’ve been racing in the U.S., that’s the one that feels the most familiar,” Grosjean said. “I can tell you it was actually designed for Formula 1 the way the curves are, the layout and the corners. I knew I was going to feel okay on the track quite quickly, whereas St. Pete takes a little bit more time to learn. Barber, a few tricks here that you need to understand. Here for me it’s a bit more straightforward.”

Grosjean’s final years in Formula 1 weren’t especially fulfilling. It made Friday’s achievement while driving for one of IndyCar’s minnows unexpectedly meaningful after going 10 years since his last pole position.

“You know, even through the last few years that have been tough in terms of results, I take the example of Germany last year where I finished ninth, with the Haas car, that was quite special,” he added. “I think Germany 2018 as well, we were like 12th after the last safety car. I came back finishing sixth or something in the last 10 laps. That was quite cool.

“Even though you’re not winning, you’ve got that feeling. Days that I completely forgot about is when you get to race weekend, you got those butterflies because you know if you do everything right, you may end up on pole or trying to win the race. That’s definitely something I had no chance to do over the last few years.”

With the well-known story of Grosjean’s escape from the crash and fireball that marked the end of his time with Haas F1, the 35-year-old says he’s found a new racing home with DCRwRWR that no longer feels like an experiment.

“A lot of people are asking how I felt watching the first race, the Formula 1 race of the season, and I wasn’t there,” he said. “I said, ‘Guys, the chapter is closed for me. I’ve had a good time, now I want something else.’ That’s what I came looking for.

“I love the atmosphere between the [IndyCar] drivers, I love the tracks. The cars are fun to drive. We can go for some good stuff. I’m really happy. Family-wise a bit of a tough year because I’m away from them quite a bit. We knew what was going to happen this year before deciding for the future. I’m happier, I’ve said it for a few times, I’m happier than I’ve been for a very long time.”