Let's keep this between ourselves
STEPHAN GREGOIRE: THE AMERICAN FRIEND
By Christian Courtel (Auto Hebdo magazine, France)
Stephan took his Rookie Test at Indy alongside Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet
Unlike Sebastien Bourdais, who has recently left the United States to return to the "Old Continent', Stephan Gregoire has no plans to come back to France despite the fact that he remains deeply attached to the Vosges region where he was born. For the last 12 years or so, Stephan has been living on the outskirts of Indianapolis with his wife, Virginie, and their two children.
He made a trip to Paris to explain his plans for the 2008 season: i.e. to compete at the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The project was born after Stephan met Olivier Michel -- marketing director of HighCo (a leading marketing solutions group) -- who happened to be in the United States at the time. Stephan has a high level of experience in all of these three mythical races, but, paradoxically is the least well acquainted with the French race as he has only driven at Le Mans once (in 2003).
In contrast, he is now a seasoned Indy 500 driver: 7 participations, including an 8th place (his best score) in the 2000 race won by Montoya. In addition, he has started some 50 IRL races and about as many Grand-Am and ALMS competitions. All this attests to Stephan's passion for US motorsports. For the last two years, on top of his racing career, he has been one of the two official Indy Racing Experience -- an innovative venture that gives enthusiasts the opportunity of having rides around the speedway in a two-seater race car -- drivers.
Stephan made steady progress after discovering Indy in May 1993. Destiny had yet to play its hand. Emmanuel Lupe and Bruno Pequin -- who were in charge of the Formula Project team -- took a crazy gamble in attempting the Indy 500, a year earlier, with Philippe Gache. The project was all the more outrageous as Emmanuel and Bruno were intent on making the first page of Autohebdo (the French motorsports weekly) ...in an edition dated 1st April! The stakes can be left up to the imagination. Sadly, the upshot was no joke and Gache is well placed to confirm this: he had the worst fright of his career in a horrendous accident in the 1992 race.
A year later, Formula Project offered the opportunity of racing at Indianapolis to one of its F3 drivers. That is how, one sunny April morning, Stephan ended up doing the laps on one of the most prestigious circuits in the world in order to pass his Rookie Test alongside drivers as highly reputed as Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. I had the opportunity to follow him in this adventure and was surprised by his calm attitude towards the event -- an attitude that he maintained throughout May 1993; He had to get accustomed to a totally new environment, a new form of racing (and a dangerous one at that), speak to the media in a language that he had yet to perfect and cope -- or sink under -- the mounting pressure of the public interest that he had attracted. Despite all this stress, Stephan remained unbelievably at ease, was always available and never showed the least sign of annoyance.
The day before Pole Day, the house in which he lived on the outskirts of Indianapolis was invaded by sponsors - along with their friends and families - making a show of typically American exuberance. I can still remember seeing the CEO of Maalox (pharmaceutical products) who never went anywhere without an ice-box, his own drinks and his own glass, due to his germ phobia, at Stephan's place. None of this excitement managed to detract from Stephan's powers of concentration. The next day, he passed the qualifications with flying colours. Due to his 15th fastest lap and position on the 5th row on the grid, Stephan was Fastest Rookie that year.
This success aroused another wave of publicity that Stephan faced with composure inversely proportionate to the emotion felt by his father, Andre. And so, with his uncomplicated but charismatic character, Stephan had just won over the United States -- and he still lives there.
-Motorsport.com thanks Christian Courtel of Auto Hebdo magazine in France for this very special feature on Stephan Gregoire