Vautier stars in IndyCar return with Coyne at Detroit GP

Tristan Vautier made it look like he never left. A full eight years and nine months after his last NTT IndyCar Series start on a road or street course, the Frenchman’s impromptu drive at Detroit for Dale Coyne Racing was a revelation for those who didn’t know he was this good.

Starting 25th, Vautier rose as high as third on an alternate strategy with his No. 51 Honda. He’d ultimately finish 18th, one spot behind teammate Jack Harvey, after two delays while stopping to avoid other drivers’ accidents, a problematic pit stop where a rear wheel wasn’t secured, losing a lap, unlapping himself, closing the 100-lap race on fading used alternate tires, and the need to pit with four laps remaining conspired against securing a better result.

For those who did know Vautier is a complete package, his shining performance, achieved with no preparation time on a simulator or in testing, was a reminder of how the 2012 Indy Lights champion has always been overlooked for a return opportunity in the series.


“The first lap was pretty intense, especially on a track when you hit the back straight and the car starts zigzagging on you and doesn’t go in a straight line because it’s so bumpy,” Vautier told RACER. “But you’ve got to go because people are trying to run over. We tried to go at a conservative pace to protect the tire wear, but that made it scarier. We were struggling the whole weekend to make our tires work so that made it extra hard, but somehow I felt good in the car and I managed to find my marks fairly quickly and it was cool. It was very enjoyable as well. I really like driving these cars.”

At 34, the older version of Vautier demonstrated a complementary blend of speed and maturity as he ran with the lead pack when possible. He also kept the No. 51 Honda off the walls and away from his rivals’ cars — something that everyone from Josef Newgarden to Pato O’Ward were unable to do.

“This morning, before the race, I just I told myself, ‘You have to be at the end; you’ve got to see that checker,’ and I was proud that we did,” he said. “I wanted to do my best and make an impression, so I tried to drive as smart as I can. The race was very chaotic. There was a lot of instances where I managed to avoid the chaos. There was a lot of incidents I had to avoid. It was one of those races where people just send it everywhere. I decided I will be at the end, and I was very happy about that.”

Vautier’s race nearly came to an end on lap 17 when he was sent from the pit box without a nut securing the left-rear wheel.

“It’s the first time it happened to me,” he said. “I got to the back straight and something made me not want to go full throttle; there’s something that was odd, so I started lifting and I look at the left side mirror, and I see that something is a bit off. When I got to the hairpin, I knew for sure. And it came off in Turn 6 and then, luckily, I had enough momentum to get back because the car goes into anti-stall that starts interfering and all that. Luckily, I could just roll the car all the way to pit lane. Unfortunately, that lap was so slow that we lost a lap, so then we had to un-lap ourselves and we were on the back foot.”

He won’t be available to race for Coyne this weekend in Road America—he’s off to France to support Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac Racing as its reserve driver at the Le Mans test day and then the 24 Hours of Le Mans—but he’s free to do more for Coyne or any other team with a need at Laguna Seca or other events afterwards.

“That’s all I want,” he said. “I have no regrets about the weekend. I feel like I did everything I could to show that I deserve a shot. I hope the phone rings. When Dale Coyne rings, he doesn’t call you for nothing, so I’ll just wait and see if the phone rings…if it’s Dale or maybe someone else.”

Story originally appeared on Racer