UPDATED: Vautier to replace Huertas at last-minute for Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – INDYCAR has confirmed Carlos Huertas’ absence for the Indianapolis 500, although it has not yet officially confirmed Tristan Vautier as his replacement.

A statement from INDYCAR reads:

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Carlos Huertas has been ruled out of the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race with an inner ear condition, according to Dr. Terry Trammell, INDYCAR medical consultant. Huertas will have to undergo further evaluation before being cleared to return to Verizon IndyCar Series competition. The 23-year-old Colombian is out for the remainder of Indianapolis 500 on-track activities, including today’s Coors Light Carb Day practice and the May 24 race.

Huertas was scheduled to start on the outside of Row 6 in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. The team will announce Huertas’ replacement  and the car will be moved to the last row of the 33-car field. It will start 32nd based on entrant points, according to Rules 8.1.8.6 and 8.1.8.6.1 of the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook.

ORIGINAL, 11:50 p.m. ET: In an unusual yet textbook definition of an eleventh hour replacement, it appears that Tristan Vautier will replace Carlos Huertas in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

Indianapolis ABC affiliate WRTV reporter Dave Furst, who also serves as a pit reporter for the IMS Radio Network, broke the news very late Thursday night via Twitter.

Furst said this on his 11 p.m. newscast, with the bumper graphic “Sources: Huertas will not race in the Indy 500.”

“6 Sports has learned that Carlos Huertas will not race,” Furst said. “There may be concerns over his stamina on the longer runs. Sources tell us Tristan Vautier will return from overseas. He qualified the No. 19, but he’ll race the No. 18 in race. An official announcement is expected tomorrow.”

Vautier has not started a Verizon IndyCar Series race since the 2013 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in October of that year. This would be his second Indianapolis 500 start (started 28th, finished 16th in 2013).

This would be one for the record books, and would come following a month that has already featured a lot of moving parts.

source:
Photo: INDYCAR

To start, Vautier was drafted in originally to the team as a qualifying driver for James Davison in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda last weekend. Davison was unable to qualify due to a sports car conflict, driving the AE Nissan GT Academy Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in the Pirelli World Challenge races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

That meant that although Vautier posted the 21st fastest qualifying speed, the No. 19 car would revert back to 33rd on the grid with the pre-planned driver change back to Davison.

Once it was confirmed James Hinchcliffe was out of the No. 5 car after qualifying his car following his accident, that meant a second car would go to the rear of the field with that driver change to Ryan Briscoe.

During today’s all-driver media session, a Dale Coyne Racing team spokesperson confirmed to MotorSportsTalk that Huertas was sick and thus unable to attend the session.

This news comes very late and would also require a change of plans for Vautier, who was supposed to be European-bound after Indianapolis qualifying. But per sources, Vautier never wound up leaving the U.S. and was still ready on standby.

He was slated to race a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 for the Akka-ASP team in the Blancpain Endurance Series race round at Silverstone this weekend.

So although Vautier qualified the No. 19 car, he’d race the No. 18 car.

The change can be done by way of a rule in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook on driver changes, given the fact Vautier has in fact qualified for this year’s Indianapolis 500, which is something two other starters – Briscoe and Davison – haven’t.

Rule 5.1.2.2.2 states: Another Driver who has qualified for the Event may be substituted for the original Driver, provided notification is given to INDYCAR, and INDYCAR approves the substitution. No Driver substitutions will be approved during a Race after the conclusion of the parade and pace laps.

The grid order among cars with driver changes would then be set by entrant points, and heading into the Indianapolis 500 the No. 5 car ranks eighth, the No. 18 car (Vautier’s car) 22nd and No. 19 car (Davison’s car) 24th.

So the last row, which in qualifying results was, in order, Jack Hawksworth, Stefano Coletti and Bryan Clauson is now set to be Ryan Briscoe, Tristan Vautier and James Davison.

As noted above, official confirmation is expected on Friday, and this post will be updated accordingly.

Still to be determined would be Vautier’s replacement driver for the Blancpain race in Silverstone.

The change – provided it is confirmed – would give Dale Coyne Racing three drivers making their first starts of the season, and first starts for the team in 2015 to make eight different drivers who have raced or practiced for Coyne this year.

The others have been Huertas, Francesco Dracone, Conor Daly, Rodolfo Gonzalez and Rocky Moran Jr., the latter of whom didn’t start at Long Beach after an injury sustained in an accident in practice.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”