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.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.