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Post-Detroit debut, Gutierrez likely set to continue with Coyne

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DETROIT – Esteban Gutierrez has made his Verizon IndyCar Series weekend debut this morning aboard the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for the first of what is likely to be a significant number of races at Dale Coyne Racing.

While nothing is confirmed yet, Coyne and Gutierrez are working towards an extension that will see Gutierrez in the car for most, if not all, remaining races as the injury replacement for Sebastien Bourdais until Bourdais’ return.

After the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear this weekend, IndyCar moves to the Texas Motor Speedway oval (Saturday, June 10, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the 1.5-mile oval that could be Gutierrez’s oval debut if he is confirmed for that race.

Coyne unofficially confirmed Gutierrez for Road America during an interview with NBCSN pit reporter Katie Hargitt on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network during free practice one, as part of a plan to keep the 25-year-old Mexican in further as the year goes on.

“This weekend, he hasn’t tested. Never been in one of these cars. (They’re) his first laps,” Coyne told Hargitt. “This is just a learning weekend. I don’t think until Road America where can actually do a test day that he’ll on his game.”

Asked whether Gutierrez is set to continue the rest of the way, Coyne responded, “That’s the plan.”

Coyne explained to Hargitt why he brought Gutierrez into the team: “We just looked at his resume. He’s won GP3, be third in GP2, which is highly competitive, hard to read F1 resume, because teams are so different. He’s a good friend of Adrian Fernandez, we talked to Adrian about him, said it was pretty easy.”

During his first formal media availability Gutierrez stopped short of confirming himself for further races as well, but strongly hinted he’ll be in a car further races. A special Unifin blue and white firesuit for Coyne with his name on it also highly suggests a busier schedule.

“So far I’m enjoying it a lot, and yeah, I think it’s important to think on Detroit right now,” Gutierrez said. “Hopefully I can do the rest of the season. This is what I want. So yeah, hopefully we can get things organized so that everything goes forward.”

Gutierrez has three would-be Formula E conflicts ahead at Berlin (June 10-11), New York City (July 15-16) and Montreal (July 29-30) with Techeetah. He’s only raced three FE rounds and told NBC Sports that they’re still working out whether he’ll continue in FE for any or all of those three weekends.

Additionally, Gutierrez said he’d be keen to do an IndyCar oval race if the opportunity presents itself. He also took after Fernando Alonso in saying he’s interested in running the Indianapolis 500.

“No, I never have (driven on an oval), and hopefully if I have the chance that I can at least do a test day before that, so that will be important for me to get a feeling,” he said.

“It’s completely new to me, but I’m very keen to learn and to go there and try out. I mean, I’m a racer. I like challenges, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

For Indy, Gutierrez took a long pause when asked whether he’d want to be in Monaco or Indianapolis next year on Memorial Day weekend, which elicited a lot of laughs.

“That’s a really good question,” he paused, before saying, “I would love to try the Indy 500.

“I watched the race, and it’s a real racing race. It’s pure driving, pure racing. It requires so many factors around. I mean, I think what Fernando experienced, I know Fernando very well, so I could see a smile on his face all the time, so I could realize that it’s something I have to try.”

This is not Gutierrez’s first time racing in America as he raced in Formula BMW USA in 2007, a year where he beat Alexander Rossi in the championship. He also beat Rossi in the year he won the 2010 GP3 Series, in a year when Josef Newgarden among other notable names also competed.

He hasn’t had much in the way of other drivers saying hi to him yet but only because he just arrived in the U.S. a couple days ago.

“I’ve spoken to a few of them, not everybody because I came very quickly. We just arrived here two days ago,” he said. “But yes, I mean, it seems that it’s very nice to come back to America from 2007 when I was racing Formula BMW here. I know very well tracks like Road America, which is one of my favorite tracks in the world, and I’m very keen to hopefully have the chance to race there again with an IndyCar in the following races.

“But yeah, regarding the drivers I competed with, it’s going to come natural. I mean, obviously being here, spending more time here, I will be able to speak with them. It’s been a long time, so many years in between, so I’m sure we can share a lot of experiences.”

It’s quite a baptism by bumps for Gutierrez in Detroit, as he called it the bumpiest track he’s ever raced on.

“It’s probably one of the trickiest tracks in the calendar, so it’s been quite enjoyable to get there in the IndyCar for the first time, getting to know the car,” he said.

“It’s a little bit bumpier than the video footage I had from the previous year. I was pleased to get on track and to say, okay, it’s not as bad as I saw on the videos.

“But definitely it’s something new for me. I mean, to have this amount of bumps, you know, the changes of the surface, you have concrete, you have asphalt, you have — everything is changing so the tires are reacting differently, so obviously it’s another factor on top of learning the car is also to learn the differences between the surfaces.

“Obviously my first goal right now is to feel comfortable, to learn. I have a great team behind me supporting me, giving me all the available information for me to get up to speed as quick as possible, right, because we know that coming from a Formula 1 experience, from Formula E, takes a bit of time to get used to a different car, especially coming into a weekend where there is quite few practice and track time.”

Gutierrez only had one session but has hailed the Dallara DW12 chassis and Honda power unit as well, in noting how similar the cars are across the board compared to F1.

“It’s more natural. The cars are pretty much equal between the teams, and that gives you the opportunity to show or let’s say to do more as a driver and to influence more on that side,” he said.

“Also the level of communication with the engineers to fine tune the car, suiting the driver — the driving style. Also — I mean, yeah, in general, yeah, I’m very happy, and the fact that you have no power steering makes it also very different.

“You have so much feedback from the car. The feeling really is much harder, but it’s much better because you get the feedback that you have from the tires, from the car, from the movements, the vibrations, and this helps you a lot to understand the car better. Not many buttons to think about.”

Gutierrez will be back in action for his second practice later this afternoon.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.