Barely more than a week ago, Tristan Vautier had admitted while he hadn’t fully moved on from the Verizon IndyCar Series, he was thrilled and happy to have a solid full-season opportunity in sports cars with Kenny Habul’s SunEnergy1 Racing program with Mercedes-AMG.
Of course, with the nature of how rapid things change in IndyCar and with Dale Coyne Racing needing a driver for tonight’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, Vautier suddenly was the somewhat out-of-left-field choice to fill the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda this weekend with Esteban Gutierrez having not yet taken his first oval test.
Vautier then delivered arguably the surprise standout performance of the season in what is meant to be Sebastien Bourdais’ stead, running the high line to perfection after starting fifth. It was apparent the engineering setup from Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson had the No. 18 car dialed in and Vautier never looked like he’d missed a beat despite not racing an IndyCar since 2015 at Sonoma, and last on an oval Pocono a week earlier that year.
Nonetheless Vautier was a top-five regular for most of the race and even led about a dozen laps. He led 10 at Mid-Ohio in 2015 with Coyne and 2 as a rookie with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2013.
But like several others, including Coyne teammate Ed Jones, Vautier got caught up in the diabolical Lap 153 accident as he got collected by James Hinchcliffe, with nowhere to go. A 16th place finish was hardly the reward or result Vautier deserved.
“There was nothing I could do. They tangled in front of me. It’s just a bummer. We could have fought for the win,” Vautier told NBCSN’s Robin Miller.
“I wanted to finish the race for my return. I raced hard. I wanted a solid finish. I’m kind of pissed off. I think we can be proud. We represented Seb (Bourdais) well.”
Vautier isn’t confirmed for any further IndyCar races as Bourdais’ injury replacement, and would miss a couple weekends anyway for his planned sports car duties with Mercedes-AMG, either with SunEnergy1 (IMSA) or Team AKKA-ASP (Blancpain GT Series).
The July 9 weekend, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park while IndyCar is at Iowa Speedway; July 30, the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup races the TOTAL 24 Hours of Spa while IndyCar is at Mid-Ohio and August 26-27, IMSA is at Virginia International Raceway while IndyCar is at Gateway Motorsports Park on the Saturday night.
Vautier hinted Gutierrez is likely to return for more races, which Gutierrez and Coyne all but confirmed in Detroit, but had made his name stand out with one of the best drives of his IndyCar career.
“Kenny my team owner is such a great person, he supports me beyond my commitments. He wants to see me succeed. If I got the shot, he’d try to free me up for the races that don’t have conflicts… but the team might be set,” Vautier told Miller.
“But I gave it all. I’m happy we maximized everything. We got taken out outside our control. I tried my best to avoid it. Sometimes you can’t avoid it.”
The Coyne team couldn’t avoid another expensive evening, either. With Bourdais’ crashes in Phoenix and Indianapolis qualifying and James Davison’s crash during the race at the Indianapolis 500, there’s now been five wrecked Coyne cars in the last month and a half.
The team was down to just three total tubs at the Detroit weekend, with Gutierrez having made his debut in what was Pippa Mann’s oval chassis – the team’s third car – at Detroit, converted back to road course specification.