Both driver and team needed this one.
For Tristan Vautier, who’s had a roller coaster season of would-be, not-quite or last-minute opportunities and for Dale Coyne Racing, which has had a rotating driver lineup through either of its two full-time cars, fourth place in Sunday’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans second race of the weekend served as a tonic to what’s been a challenging 2015.
Vautier ended 17th in Saturday’s race one after qualifying an impressive 11th.
Sunday’s race two saw the grid set on entrant points, which meant Vautier lined up 23rd and last in the race in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
But from the back, through fuel strategy and patient, aggressive driving, he moved into the top 10 in the latter stages of the race. Vautier chose his times to attack wisely and, late in the race, passed series veterans Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan en route to a fourth place finish, a career-best.
Vautier’s previous career-best finish was 10th at Barber, his second race in the series, in 2013.
Each of the top four drivers were on the same fuel strategy and Vautier ended just behind podium finishers Sebastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal.
“It’s pretty amazing having been out of an IndyCar for a year and a half, then coming back and finishing fourth,” Vautier told MotorSportsTalk post-race.
“Hats off to the team. They made the perfect calls on strategy and it really paid off. The car was really good.
“It was chaos out there, but you could not be too conservative because if you were you’d get passed by everyone. It was a fine line to find between aggressive and keeping the car in one piece. A big thanks to Dale Coyne for having me drive this weekend. I hope we can do more together.”
To give an idea of how challenging a year, results-wise, it’s been for Coyne, both Vautier’s 11th place start in race one and fourth place finish in race two are the best results of the year by significant margins.
The P11 start marks the best grid position for a Coyne car all year; the previous best was 21st (Conor Daly and Rodolfo Gonzalez in Round 3, then Round 4), although Carlos Huertas and Vautier had qualified a respectable 18th and 21st of 33 in Indianapolis 500 time trials. Neither car started from their qualified position due to driver changes before the race.
Finishing-wise, not only was Vautier’s result the first top-five and top-10 of the season, but the first top-15. Huertas’ 16th at NOLA Motorsports Park had been the best result, although even that one could have ended on the podium thanks again to some good strategy from the pit box. Daly’s 17th at Long Beach a week later, on short fill-in notice, was arguably the most impressive 17th place finish in recent memory.
The result is Coyne’s first top-10 since Justin Wilson finished ninth at Sonoma last year, and first top-five since Huertas’ win at Houston race one last year.
While not confirmed yet for Texas, expect Vautier to be back next week.