INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been an utterly bizarre year for Tristan Vautier in terms of opportunities he’s had, thought he’s had, or wound up having after circumstances changed.
It began when Vautier got a last-minute Prototype Challenge ride with JDC/Miller Motorsports in the Rolex 24. He then lost a FIA World Endurance Championship ride he was supposed to have with Team SARD-Morand for the opening two races when the team withdrew the car he was supposed to have, but then that led to his Blancpain Endurance Series opportunity with his current team, Team Akka-ASP.
And then this year’s month of May happened.
The 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series rookie-of-the-year hasn’t started an IndyCar race since that year, but will on Sunday in the 99th Indianapolis 500, driving the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda under the most abnormal of circumstances.
He didn’t know if he’d have a ride for the month of May to begin with until James Davison’s deal in the No. 19 car was confirmed.
With Davison having a conflict on qualifying weekend, an arrangement was made for Vautier to qualify the car.
“It was a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions,” Vautier told assembled media on Friday. “I came before the road course race. I knew if James was getting the deal with them, I would qualify. It was not done. It happened finally on Tuesday night I think before qualifying. That was the first good news.”
And then, last night, it began to emerge Vautier would actually be in the race – but not in Davison’s No. 19 Always Evolving/Dale Coyne Racing Honda that he’d qualified. He’d take over for Carlos Huertas in the No. 18 car after Huertas was not medically cleared to drive.
Vautier only became available once his Blancpain team – Team Akka-ASP – allowed for him to miss this weekend’s race in Silverstone to race in the Indianapolis 500.
“Yes, I was meant to race in Europe in the GT Series in Silverstone. Yeah, the team I think was very understanding. I have to thank them,” Vautier said. “It’s Team Akka-ASP. We just had a call and they said I could race, seize the opportunity that opened up. They would find a replacement driver (Ludovic Badey) so I could race in the 500.
“That’s really cool from them to let me do that. But, yeah, I was meant to be in England today.”
Vautier described his travel situation. He was going back-and-forth between Indianapolis and Chicago, as it turned out, during the week, wondering if or when he’d board a plane.
“I was in Chicago O’Hare when I had to come back,” he said. “An hour and a half or something (from boarding). I put my luggage out, went to Alamo and rented a car and just drove back (laughter).”
Although Vautier will be replacing Huertas, he paid tribute to the Colombian’s qualifying efforts last weekend.
“Then, yeah, on this one, it’s not really the way you want to get back in the car honestly,” he said. “I think Carlos deserves to be racing because he did a really good job in qualifying and on practice. Obviously you can’t help but be excited to start your second Indy 500.
“It’s good to work with the guys. Not a lot of prep for the race. The practice we did last week was aimed for the complete opposite in running by ourselves, setting the car up for qualifying in low trim.
“At one hour, we made the most of it and have a direction for the race.”
Vautier will start 32nd, with Davison 33rd. It is believed to be the first time in Indianapolis 500 history that a driver has qualified one car and started another.
It’s been a strange odyssey but a cool one that will enter the record books for the amiable Frenchman.