Exhaust failure stops strong debut for Vautier

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Tristan Vautier, the lone rookie in the IZOD IndyCar Series, was impressive in his big-league debut before he was sidelined in the second half of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg due to an exhaust system failure on his No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Last year’s Firestone Indy Lights champion was superb in cracking the Firestone Fast Six yesterday in qualifying, and was running fourth on Sunday when he suddenly hit the pits for an unscheduled stop on Lap 69. After a few moments, the engine cowling on Vautier’s Florida Lottery-backed machine came off and the Frenchman had to come out of the cockpit.

Exhaust system issues had also taken his veteran teammate, Simon Pagenaud, out of the race after just 26 laps, forcing him to settle for a 24th-place result.

“It’s very frustrating, but that is part of racing,” said Vautier, who was credited with a 21st-place finish and shook the hands of his crewmen after his race ended. “We had a great run today. My car was fantastic and I have to thank the team for that.

“It was amazing running through the streets of St. Petersburg today and I really wanted to take it further, but it was out of our control. I had so much fun while I was out there and I’m very happy with my first race weekend in IndyCar, even though we couldn’t convert it into a result.”

Vautier is entering IndyCar this season after winning the 2012 Lights title and the 2011 Pro Mazda championship.

Alex Zanardi showing signs of interaction three months after crash

Alex Zanardi recovery
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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MILAN — Italian racing driver turned Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi has started responding to treatment with signs of interaction, more than three months after he was seriously injured in a handbike crash.

Zanardi has spent most of that time in intensive care after crashing into an oncoming truck during a relay event near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19.

“For several days now. Alex Zanardi has undergone cognitive and motor rehabilitation sessions, with the administration of visual and acoustic stimuli, to which the patient responds with momentary and initial signs of interaction,” the San Raffaele hospital in Milan said in a statement Thursday.

The hospital said that is “significant progress” but added that his condition remains serious, and that it would be “absolutely premature” to make a long-term prognosis.

Zanardi, 53, suffered serious facial and cranial trauma in the crash and was put in a medically induced coma. Doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

He was operated on several times to stabilize him and reconstruct his severely damaged face and the Milan hospital added that he recently had undergone another surgery to reconstruct his skull and would have another one in the coming weeks.

Zanardi lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.