It had to happen at some point: Tristan Vautier’s excellent start to his IndyCar career hit a few speed bumps during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
In a first, Vautier failed to advance from Q1 (and for that matter, into the Firestone Fast Six) for the first time in two races with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. To make matters worse, the team changed engines and thus what was already going to be a struggle from 19th on the grid became 27th and last, thanks to IndyCar’s 10-spot grid penalty rule enforced for unapproved engine changes.
Vautier, ambitious at the start, made contact with Scott Dixon going into Turn 6. That earned him a penalty for avoidable contact.
But Vautier moved forward, both with a great car on restarts and a good strategy to climb into the top-five later in the race. He was on pace for what could have been his best result before the last pit stop sequence, when he was released into Will Power’s path as the Australian entered his pits on lap 51.
That, although not Vautier’s fault, earned the French rookie his second penalty of the day. He eventually ended behind Power in 17th.
“We had an amazing car today, so thanks to the team for that. I made a mistake at the beginning of the race with Scott Dixon, and I’m sorry about that to him and his crew,” said Vautier. “I got pretty familiar with pit lane after serving my drive thru penalty for the incident, but we got back out on the track and my pace was amazing.
“We really made the most of the restarts. I think we gained five positions on each of them. It felt great to run up in podium position for awhile. Unfortunately in the pits I got sent out and made contact with Will Power’s car. We had some communication issues as a team, but we’re all learning to work together and things happen.”