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No. 8: Johnson, Grosjean complete Indy 500 Rookie Orientation Program

Note: The editorial staff at IMS.com is taking a look back at the 10 biggest moments of 2021 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this year-end series, with one installment appearing on the site per day in countdown fashion from Dec. 22-31.

Just days after the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season ended, two series rookies had their sights set on the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in a show of the global appeal of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and former Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean completed the three-stage Rookie Orientation Program for the Indianapolis 500 to prepare them for a run in the Indy 500 next May.

Johnson drove the No. 48 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, while Grosjean took his first ride in the No. 28 Honda for Andretti Autosport. Both drivers will compete in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES full time in 2022, including their first attempts to qualify for the Indy 500.

It was a surprising reversal for the two drivers from even just a year ago. Both came into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this year with reservations about competing on ovals.

But this was more than just a test. Johnson and Grosjean’s interest in the Indianapolis 500 showed just how important it is for race car drivers from any discipline to attempt to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Johnson and Grosjean will join a star-studded list of global stars who have recently attempted to qualify for the Indy 500, including NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso and NASCAR race winner AJ Allmendinger

Johnson came from stock cars and was apprehensive of the high speeds INDYCAR SERIES cars reached on the famed 2.5-mile oval after maxing out at around 200 mph in a stock car during the Brickyard 400. Grosjean, on the other hand, was cautious after a fiery crash in Bahrain in fall 2020 that severely burned his hand and brought his F1 career to an end.

Johnson and Grosjean eased into things during the Oct. 6 test. But once the two drivers got up to speed, they couldn’t get enough.

During Indy 500 qualifying May 21-22 when Johnson and Grosjean look to be the next high-profile drivers to compete for Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, everyone will look back at the Rookie Orientation Program test in fall 2021 as the instigator and incubator.

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