esteban gutierrez

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Gutierrez placed under microscope in Mid-Ohio final restart

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Esteban Gutierrez’s first season in the Verizon IndyCar Series has featured a number of stories. But in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the young Mexican driver was highlighted under the microscope in a race situation for the first time of note this year, perhaps for the wrong reasons.

On the first and only restart from a full-course caution on Lap 71, race leader Josef Newgarden had Gutierrez as a buffer between himself and second-placed Will Power, and third-placed Graham Rahal.

Gutierrez was a lap down and understandably was keen to get his lap back, although at such a late stage of the race, even if he got back on the lead lap would have likely struggled to make up enough time for a result.

Anyway, Newgarden got the jump but Gutierrez pushed him on the run to Turn 4 from the restart line. He got close enough to the race leader to make it interesting, but not close enough to overtake. He had gotten close enough to where Power and Rahal were held up in the process of pursuing Newgarden, and with fresher and softer Firestone red alternate tires versus Newgarden’s harder primary Firestone blacks, the second- and third-placed drivers’ potential tire advantage was negated.

After the race, INDYCAR officials met with Gutierrez and the Dale Coyne Racing team for further discussions about whether there was a call to go for it or how it played out.

It’s a dilemma because by the INDYCAR rulebook, Gutierrez had every right to make the attempt to pass to get back on the lead lap, and it’s also a smart play by Coyne to ensure the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda – otherwise running outside the top-15 despite Gutierrez qualifying a season-best 12th – got some quality air time on NBCSN. But by the unwritten rules of racing, there’s a gentlemen’s agreement in place to not impact the battle for the lead if you’re a lapped car.

“Well, I honestly tried!” Gutierrez told NBC Sports after the race. “It was tricky there. We were in a good position and going well with a good pace. Obviously we wanted to get on the lead lap, and we tried, but we didn’t get there.”

He’d lost the lap earlier in the race owing to a front wing issue and Gutierrez called it a “miscommunication” on the first pit stop.

Race winner Newgarden described the dilemma from his vantage point. It helped him in the long run, and he said Gutierrez didn’t do anything wrong, but added that he’d have felt aggrieved if he was in Power or Rahal’s shoes.

“The only real drama was the restart, as it felt like we were on the wrong tire again, kind of like Road America,” Newgarden said. “Fortunately, we had a bit of a buffer, even with the car in between. Even there, I thought Gutierrez was going to run into us on Turn 4 for a second, but we seemed to skate through.”

Newgarden said his race strategist, Tim Cindric, said to expect Gutierrez to try a move on the restart.

“Tim even said something. Tim was like, ‘Hey, you need to watch out. Gutierrez is on red tires. He’s probably going to try and be a hero getting his lap back here,’ which was not the thing to do, I don’t think, in that situation when you’re on the last stint. I mean, you’re not going to really be able to do much getting your lap back,” Newgarden said.

“So I was talking to the guys. I talked to Rahal and Will about it. It’s probably something we need to address again. We’ve had this discussion about lap cars before. We probably need to have a discussion about how we handle it again with just the procedure. Per the rules, he has every right to actually try and pass me. It’s not against the rules. It’s not against what we do right now in IndyCar. So there’s really nothing wrong that he did, but is that the right procedure to have? I don’t know anymore.

“It didn’t end bad. It was all fine. He’s a talented driver. He’s been in a lot of series. I think he handled it fine, and there’s nothing that bad that came out of it. Fortunately, we don’t have to talk about something like that.”

Newgarden and Gutierrez had raced each other before IndyCar in the 2010 GP3 Series season (a field that also featured fellow 2017 IndyCar drivers Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens, among other notables), but with this only Gutierrez’s sixth IndyCar start, it’s worth wondering whether he was accustomed to the unofficial IndyCar “rules of engagement.”

“That’s why I felt he would do it because he’s so new here. I thought he would do something like that, where he’s going to try to get his lap back. I tried to get as good a jump as I could and just watched him,” Newgarden said.

“I saw him locked up in my mirror, and I thought, ‘I can’t really go anywhere.’ I left a little bit of room on the inside, not a lot, but I left a little bit just to give him some space. I was just waiting. I was like, he’s either going to hit me or he’s not. And he didn’t. Once we got to the corner, it was just fine.

“But I was expecting it. I was expecting something like that. After we got through that, it actually kind of helped me a little bit going after Will. It was probably a good thing after we got to the start.”

Unsurprisingly, Rahal and Power took a different view of the passing attempt, although Power agreed with Newgarden that Gutierrez wasn’t really to blame for going for it.

“I think we need to have a talk behind closed doors with the drivers,” Rahal lamented. “I would say Gutierrez was damn close to taking out the leader. I’m sure you saw it. That’s just ridiculous, honestly. We’ll talk about it behind closed doors. I think everybody needs a little bit of a shakeup here with just the respect between drivers, but we’ll go from there.

“I mean, I always get told I’m a whiner when I talk about those sorts of things. I’ll let Will talk about it.”

Power replied, “It’s actually not Gutierrez’s fault. The rules for IndyCar are kind of ridiculous, that the team would tell him to stay and push and he’s not even in the lead. He’s not even leading. I understand if he was ahead of Newgarden because then, if it goes yellow, he gets his lap back.

“Yeah, I mean, IndyCar on one hand wants really good racing, but then you put a bunch of backmarkers, people a lap down in the mix. It ruined probably a very good battle at the end because Josef was on black tires and we were on reds.”

Foyt, Coyne optimistic about Mid-Ohio after testing

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Along with Felix Rosenqvist and Chip Ganassi Racing, two other teams visited the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for testing ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Sunday July 30, 3:00 p.m., CNBC). A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Dale Coyne Racing sent their drivers and teams to Mid-Ohio in hopes of getting a leg up on things and building optimism ahead of this weekend.

For Foyt’s team in particular, the optimism is needed. Combined, drivers Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly have only three top tens (two for Munoz, one for Daly) across a total of 24 starts, making them desperate for strong results to come their way.

Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz are hopeful that they can turn their seasons around at Mid-Ohio. Photo: IndyCar

Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity for Foyt’s duo to right the ship. Munoz has finishes of fourth, ninth, and third in three starts at the Lexington, Ohio road course, while Daly led late in last year’s race and finished an impressive sixth.

And a productive test last week has both feeling hopeful. “We needed this test to try big steps and different options and I think we gained a lot from where we started to where we finished,” said Munoz, whose best 2017 finish of seventh came at Barber Motorsports Park in April.

Munoz added that, while they are still playing catch up a little, the team gained valuable information that should help them this weekend. “The car was much more competitive from where we started so we closed the gap but we need a little bit more to compete with the top guys. But the information that we gathered will help us to show up stronger than we did at the test so I’m looking forward to going back,” he asserted.

Daly echoed Munoz’s sentiments and added that his near-win last year makes him upbeat ahead of the weekend. “It was a really productive (test) for us. Every day with this car and aero package we are learning more. I feel like I came quite close to winning the race last year so I’m hoping to have another strong result this year,” Daly expressed.

Technical Director Will Phillips added that the knowledge they gained should help them at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway at the end of the season, particularly in terms of maximizing the grip from the tires.

“We certainly believe that the area we made an improvement in will help us at all the road courses to come – we have been slow to extract performance from the tires at times and it was in this area that some changes we made had a very positive response,” Phillips described. “We will keep our feet on the ground but are optimistic that we can carry the gains through for the remainder of the year, not just for Mid-Ohio.”

On the other side, Dale Coyne Racing has been a giant-killer in 2017, winning at St. Petersburg with Sebastien Bourdais and finishing third at the Indianapolis 500 with Ed Jones. James Davison, Tristan Vautier, and Esteban Gutierrez have also impressed in fill-in roles for the injured Bourdais.

Dale Coyne Racing has shown a lot of speed in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

And while the team has also incurred more than it’s fair share of crash damage, they have consistently showcased speed at nearly every event, and the team’s drivers are confident Mid-Ohio will yield more of the same.

“We had a really good test last week at Mid-Ohio. It was very positive and we worked on a lot of things,” said Ed Jones, who has four starts at Mid-Ohio from his days in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, with a best finish of sixth. “The car seemed pretty fast compared to others that were there. As we saw at Road America, it’s beneficial to be able to test somewhere before we race there. It can give you an advantage early on and hopefully we can produce another good result because of it.”

Teammate Esteban Gutierrez, making his sixth start for the team this weekend, is more modest of his expectations, but did reveal that a top ten finish could be realistic.

“In terms of objectives for the weekend, I want to keep on learning and it would be nice to reach the top ten. We know that it’s been a pretty steep learning curve for me in IndyCar but we’ve made some progress and hopefully we can make our way into the top ten pretty soon,” Gutierrez detailed.

Of the drivers mentioned here, Jones ranks the highest in the championship standings, currently sitting 12th. Munoz sits 15th, Daly 19th, and Gutierrez 25th in his fill-in role.

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Gutierrez cleared to drive in Toronto

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After experiencing concussion-like symptoms following a crash in Saturday qualifying, Dale Coyne Racing’s Esteban Gutierrez has been cleared to drive in the Honda Indy Toronto (3:00 p.m., CNBC). The formal announcement from the Verizon IndyCar Series is below.

Gutierrez was in position to advance out of his group prior to the incident, which occurred in the final corner leading onto the front straight away. However, because his crash caused a red flag, Gutierrez lost his two fastest laps and will start today’s race in 21st.

Gutierrez is expected to participate in morning warm-up for the Verizon IndyCar Series, which is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET.

Meanwhile the Dale Coyne Racing has completed its build up of the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda following a late night’s work.

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Gutierrez experienced concussion-like symptoms; TBD for Sunday

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Dale Coyne Racing driver Esteban Gutierrez sustained a heavy accident in qualifying for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto (3 p.m. ET, CNBC) and was shaken up, although able to climb from his No. 18 UNIFIN Honda under his own power in the day.

But his status for race day is uncertain, following confirmation from INDYCAR that he had experienced concussion-like symptoms following his medical evaluation. While he has been checked and released, he is not yet cleared to drive.

Here’s INDYCAR’s official statement: “Following an incident during qualifications today for the Honda Indy Toronto, Dale Coyne Racing driver Esteban Gutierrez was evaluated by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Michael Olinger after experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Gutierrez was treated and released but has not been cleared to drive, pending further evaluation Sunday morning.”

Gutierrez did speak to the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network after the incident and also had quotes in the team post-qualifying release.

“It was not ideal obviously, it’s been a tough weekend overall,” Gutierrez said. “Yesterday we lost a bit of track time due to contact in Turn 1 and today it was a pretty hard hit in a high-speed corner. I was having some understeer and I was trying to anticipate a bit the entry of the corner but I touched the inside wall a bit and it sent me straight into the outside wall, pretty hard. It’s unfortunate and I feel really bad for the team, they have a lot of work to do.”

Sunday warmup is scheduled from 11:30 to noon ET, and if Gutierrez is cleared to drive, he’ll be able to resume the weekend in what is expected to be a new car. Per Trackside Online, Gutierrez’s chassis was damaged enough in the accident in qualifying to where they’d need to go to a backup car, and with Coyne having limited chassis at its disposal, the accident – and the subsequent crash damage – was the last thing they needed.

If Gutierrez is not able to drive, that complicates things a bit. Guelph, Ontario native Robert Wickens, who practiced in Mikhail Aleshin’s car at Road America, could be a candidate to substitute and Zach Veach, who already played the role of injury substitute once this year for JR Hildebrand, is also on site in Toronto and could be available if need-be.

At Toronto in 2013, a similar-type situation hung over a driver’s status for Sunday, but that came in Toronto’s first doubleheader weekend. Ryan Briscoe sustained a wrist injury and was replaced by Carlos Munoz at Panther Racing. It marked the Colombian’s first ever street course start in IndyCar.

Bourdais helping Coyne drivers at Toronto, eyes return

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TORONTO (AP) Sebastien Bourdais is trading in his helmet this weekend for the IndyCar race in Toronto. And he is looking ahead to a possible return near the end of the season.

The Frenchman is returning to the race track in a mentorship role for Dale Coyne Racing just two months after a crash during qualifying for the Indy 500. The two-time Toronto winner will help out team rookies Ed Jones and Esteban Gutierrez. Bourdais finished seventh in Toronto last year.

Bourdais fractured his pelvis , a hip and two ribs when his car exploded into pieces and spun through Turn 2 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after hitting the wall at 227 mph.

“If I see something, then I’ll try and help, and if I don’t, then I’ll just shut up and see what happens,” Bourdais said Thursday.

“I’ve been around this place a lot, but there’s only so much you can do from the outside so we’ll see how I can help them. It was important for me and the team to show up for the first time since the accident and just get to see everybody and try and contribute to the effort.”

Bourdais, 38, was walking without crutches and says his progress is ahead of schedule. He is not ruling out a return this season.

“Unless I get in the car in testing and call it quits because I’m not ready, the plan is to do Watkins and Sonoma,” Bourdais said of the final two races of the season. “That’s been my goal since really looking at the time frame and where we were going to be at the six weeks weight bearing, the eight weeks walking.”

Seeing the four-time IndyCar Series champion back around the track was a welcome sight. Will Power stopped to chat with Bourdais after the news conference.

“It’s great to see him back, can’t wait to see him in a car,” he said.

Bourdais, who started the season with a win at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, said that he has been starting to exercise again, which includes some cycling.

“It’s kind of a weird feeling because there’s some groups that are fairly equal side to side and one little thing that you feel very vulnerable,” Bourdais said. “But it’s all coming back nice and slow, but it’s going to be a bit of a process for sure.”

Being in a coaching position is nothing new for Bourdais, but it’s never come at the expense of him being sidelined. He said he’s fine with the mentorship role even though it’s tough not to be in the car.

“I’ve tried to be a good patient, not trying to rush things and do anything stupid,” he said. “But obviously now that I’m feeling not 100 percent but not far from it either, it’s definitely kind of itching to get back into the car.”