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


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 and 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.


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 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.

Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”