Vautier returns to IndyCar with Coyne for Detroit

Six years, 11 months, and 23 days. That’s the gap between Tristan Vautier’s last NTT IndyCar Series start for Dale Coyne Racing and his next, which will take place on Sunday at the Detroit Grand Prix in the No. 51 Honda.

The talented Frenchman, winner of the 2012 Indy Lights championship, spent his rookie season in 2013 with the team known today as Arrow McLaren, and lacking a budget to continue, turned to sports cars before making a return to IndyCar in the second half of 2015 with Coyne where he produced a career-best finish of fourth at Detroit.

With his injured friend and countryman Sebastien Bourdais sidelined after suffering a major crash in qualifying at the 2017 Indianapolis 500, Vautier was among the drivers drafted in by Coyne to keep Bourdais’ car in action while he recovered. After placing 16th at Texas Motor Speedway that June, Vautier will get another opportunity to show his skills nearly seven years to the day of his last IndyCar outing.


“That’s the funny thing; there hasn’t been anything since 2017, but we’ve always kept a good relationship with Dale,” Vautier told RACER. “Dale has his famous saying, ‘You never know,’ and this opportunity to race again in IndyCar with him is exactly like his saying.”

A little-known fact about the relationship between Coyne and Vautier is the trust the Illinois-based team owner has in his former — and now current — driver. Although there hasn’t been a need to make use of it since Texas in 2017, Coyne has carried Vautier’s seat in his IndyCar transporters over the last six years and 11 months just in case he needed an emergency stand-in to pilot one of his cars.

Vautier’s seat has completed tens of thousands of miles trekking across the country since 2017, and finally, it will be taken down from the rafters and fitted once again to a Dale Coyne Racing entry.

“Dale has always kept my seat so it’s ready for me if he calls, so it’s great to get to use it!” Vautier said with a laugh.

Vautier’s best IndyCar result came at Detroit – albeit on a different track and in a different era. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

The 34-year-old has been out of open-wheel racing for a good while, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a lack of opportunities. Vautier’s been among the most popular solutions for European and American sports car teams for more than a decade, racing in IMSA’s top prototype class — which included an overall win at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2021 — and at Le Mans.

He spent the 2023 season racing in the European Le Mans Series in the LMP2 category and has stayed ready for a call like the one he received from Coyne. Finding his way back to a full-time IndyCar role is a longshot, but attracting the interest of an IMSA GTP team owner for 2025 would be helpful.

“I think if you were trying to write a script with the way my career has gone, you couldn’t really do it,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities like this that put me back on the map, so that is what I’m hoping for. I’m not scared of doing this with no preparation, but to be fully honest and humble, I certainly don’t underestimate the challenge.

“This will be the longest since I’ve been in an IndyCar, and with the most changes to the car; I’ve never used the aeroscreen. I don’t know the track. But again, I am gonna go there, I’m hungry, and I’m going to do my best and see where it leads me. What do I have to lose, right? It’s super exciting for me and I like these opportunities.”

Vautier’s surprise IndyCar return is set for Detroit, but he won’t be able to continue the following weekend at Road America in the No. 51 Honda as he’s been hired by Chip Ganassi Racing as its reserve driver for Cadillac Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans which holds its official test day — for which some drivers have waivers while racing elsewhere on Sunday, June 9 — where Vautier will need to be present with the team in France.


Story originally appeared on Racer