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Vautier’s go-for-broke, one-off Texas return dazzles before disaster

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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.

Dixon finally breaks through at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – After a year of near misses and frustration, Scott Dixon has finally captured his first win of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing has won today’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America after leading 24 of 55 laps, and holding off a late charge from Josef Newgarden, best of Team Penske’s quartet.

The win also provides Mike Hull a victory on his 25-year anniversary with the team, a special moment. Dixon is now the eighth winner of the year, and the only active track where Dixon hadn’t led a lap – until today.

Hull made an excellent strategic decision to go with Firestone’s red alternate tires on the second-to-last stint. Following a restart after Takuma Sato spun at the Kink, Dixon then made a spectacular move to Newgarden’s outside going into Turn 1, and completing the move on exit. Newgarden had no counter as he was on Firestone’s blacks at that point.

Newgarden led home teammates Helio Castroneves, who fell to third from the pole, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, as Penske ended second, third, fourth and fifth after sweeping the top four spots on the grid.

Charlie Kimball parlayed an off-sequence strategy to jump up to sixth, with Ed Jones, Graham Rahal, Max Chilton and Mikhail Aleshin completing the top 10.

Tony Kanaan had a heavy accident at the Kink but got out of his car, in the race’s one major incident.

More to follow…

Stroll rewarded with shoey after first F1 podium in Baku (VIDEO)

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Lance Stroll was “lost for words” after becoming the second-youngest Formula 1 podium finisher in Sunday’s chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, crossing the line third for Williams.

Stroll qualified eighth in Baku before managing to rise up the order as a race of attrition set in at the front, with title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both dropping back after coming to blows.

Stroll was left running second behind Daniel Ricciardo once Hamilton had pitted for repairs and Vettel had served his penalty, but had Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas bearing down through the closing stages.

In a drag race at the line, Bottas nosed ahead of Stroll by just 0.1 seconds to deny the Williams driver P2, but he was nevertheless able to hang on to third place.

Coming just two weeks after his maiden F1 points finish and following a barrage of criticism in the early part of the year, Stroll was overjoyed with the result.

“I’m just lost for words right now. I don’t even know what to say,” Stroll said.

“I can’t quite realize what just happened. It was a hectic race, people crashing and we stayed out of trouble, I kept my head cool and took it to the end.

“I lost out to Valtteri in the end. I reckon that was probably one of the closest finishes of all time! We were side-by-side across the finish line.

“What a race. I couldn’t believe coming into the weekend that I would be standing on the podium, it’s so amazing.”

Joining race winner and shoey extraordinaire Ricciardo on the podium, Stroll became the latest driver to take part in F1’s strangest tradition – albeit only after Ricciardo checked he was old enough.

Stroll completed the shoey like a champ, and was also informed that he had won the online Driver of the Day vote.

The result also saw Stroll became Canada’s first podium finisher since Jacques Villeneuve in 2001, as well as being the youngest ever rookie to finish in the top three.

Stroll missed out on the overall youngest podium record by 11 days to Max Verstappen, who won last year’s Spanish Grand Prix during his second season of racing in F1.

Ricciardo doubted Baku F1 win was possible, left ‘speechless’ on podium

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A stunned Daniel Ricciardo was left speechless on the podium after claiming his fifth Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, navigating a crazy race that he started from 10th on the grid.

Ricciardo survived three safety car periods, two early pit stops and a red flag stoppage to rise through the order and capitalize on trouble for title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with both dropping back down the order after dominating early on.

Ricciardo moved into the lead when Vettel was forced to serve a penalty for dangerous driving, and went unchallenged en route to victory in Baku from there, finishing 3.9 seconds clear of the pack.

Struggling to form his words initially, Ricciardo said he only thought a podium was within reach after the restart, only for the issues for the leaders to hand him the race win.

“We know there was a chance of the podium after the restart, but then we heard what happened with Lewis and Seb. It was just a crazy race,” Ricciardo said.

“I made an unplanned stop at the beginning. After a few laps we had some debris in the brakes, so we had to stop and clean it. We dropped to 17th place.

“So did I think then that we could win? Absolutely not. I would have put all my money on it that this was very unlikely.

“A crazy race. This is the race we expected last year, with all the safety cars and all the chaos, and we got it this year.”

Ricciardo’s victory came after he crashed out of qualifying on Saturday evening in Baku, resigning him to a P10 start, but was pleased to make up for it in style.

“Yesterday I was disappointed with the mistake. I knew today would be a different outcome,” Ricciardo said.

“I said it yesterday that we had to stay out of trouble and it certainly paid off today. A big thanks to the team, it was nice to get one car home and on the podium.

“I’m honestly speechless. After the race on the cool down lap, I was kind of just giggling like a school boy.”

WATCH LIVE: KOHLER Grand Prix at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Road America this weekend, with the now 55-lap KOHLER Grand Prix this afternoon.

You can watch it LIVE on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app starting at 11 a.m. CT and local time, noon ET.

Coverage has moved up half an hour from a planned 12:30 p.m. ET start time with the Formula 1 race from Azerbaijan running long.

This moves the Indy Lights second race of the weekend, which was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET, with Jake Query and Anders Krohn in the booth and Hargitt in pit lane.

Coverage will run through to 3:30 p.m. ET. INDYCAR: NEXT at the 101st Indianapolis 500 is scheduled from 3:30 to 4 p.m. ET.

Kevin Lee is on the call along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Marty Snider, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller in the pits.

Helio Castroneves secured the pole position for the race. The full qualifying report is linked here.