Off-road is a completely different world from open-wheel, but Romain Grosjean seems more than interested to try it out. While the Frenchman has spent his entire career on pavement, his off-road aspirations include the SCORE International Baja 1000 and Extreme E, as revealed in a candid conversation between him and Extreme E driver Catie Munnings that was shared on the series’ various social media channels.
Both drivers are members of the Andretti organisation, with Munnings driving for Andretti United XE and Grosjean for Andretti Autosport in the NTT IndyCar Series. Munnings was a special guest of Andretti Autosport for IndyCar’s Sonio Grand Prix at Road America, and the chat between the two arose in the team paddock.
The twenty-one-second video posted by Extreme E begins with Munnings pitching the idea to Grosjean by discussing the “sand dunes in the desert,” to which he responds that he “like(s) the idea.” Munnings then suggests he “should try it” and brings up Jenson Button, who raced with Grosjean in Formula One and currently owns JBXE; Button ran the inaugural Extreme E race for his team in 2021.
Acknowledging his awareness of Button’s one-off, Grosjean comments it “definitely will be something that I [try], maybe try and do Baja 1000 first and then yeah, Extreme E.” Munnings issues her support by calling the 1000 “a good one” to which Grosjean answers, “It’s quite cool, I like the idea.”
Although Extreme E’s 2022 calendar does not have conflicting dates with IndyCar, one should not get too eager about potentially seeing Grosjean pilot a Spark Odyssey 21 in XE. Such an opportunity would only arise in the unlikely event that a team drops its male full-time driver or needs a reserve in case of injury or illness. Conversely, a Baja 1000 run is much more likely in the immediate future as the race takes place in late November, well after the IndyCar season concludes.
The Baja 1000, a legendary rally raid in Mexico, has been challenged by both Button and Grosjean’s Andretti Autosport team-mate Alexander Rossi. While Button retired from his lone attempt in 2019, Rossi and the Honda Factory Racing Team won Class 7 in his third try at the 2021 race. Rossi was the first Indianapolis 500 winner to claim a win of any kind (overall or class) in the Baja 1000.
It might seem like a massive jump to go from turning laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway to going through desert for forty hours, but many other IndyCar drivers have dabbled in the Baja 1000. The Jones and Mears families, prominently led by Parnelli Jones and Rick Mears, are legendary names in both desert and open-wheel racing; P.J. Jones and Casey Mears still compete in SCORE events, the former running the Baja 500 last week while Casey’s father Roger Mears was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2020.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was replaced by Grosjean in the #28 Andretti Autosport ride for 2022, attempted the race in 2006. Hunter-Reay’s brother-in-law Robby Gordon is an iconic figure in the off-road world, a three-time 1000 champion, and twice-race winner in CART in the 1990s. The Jourdains—Michel Sr. and Jr. and the former’s brother Bernard—won the 2004 Baja Challenge class after spending much of their driving careers in CART.
Other crossovers include former Indy 500 winners Buddy Rice and Danny Sullivan, four-time Champ Car World Champion Sébastien Bourdais, 1996 CART winner Jimmy Vasser, ex-CART winners and F1 alumni Roberto Guerrero and Danny Ongais, and longtime veteran Oriol Servià. Scott Atchison, Wally Dallenbach Sr. and Jr., Dominic Dobson, Josele Garza, brothers Mike and Robbie Groff, Johnny Unser, and Bill and Don Whittington have too competed in both open-wheel and the 1000.
Grosjean’s F1 experience, which ran from 2009 to 2020, would allow him to join company that includes Button, Guerrero, Ongais, Rossi, Stefan Johansson, and Gunnar Nilsson. Nilsson won the 1000’s Moto division thrice before entering F1 in the 1970s.
Should he listen to Munnings’ promotion and head to Extreme E, Grosjean would be the third F1 alumnus to race in the series after Button and Stéphane Sarrazin, though F1 World Champions Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton currently operate Rosberg X Racing and Team X44, respectively. Sarrazin contested much of the 2021 XE slate with Veloce Racing over two decades after running his lone F1 race in the 1999 Brazilian Grand Prix; his Veloce team-mate Jamie Chadwick is an F1 developmental driver for Williams Racing. Sébastien Loeb of X44 has tested F1 cars in the past and is frequently considered one of the greatest drivers to have never reached the top flight of formula racing.
While nobody in the XE field has run an IndyCar event, Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren have teams in both championships. Andretti United is a joint effort between Andretti Autosport and United Autosports run by McLaren CEO Zak Brown.