Vautier delivers career-best result, season-best for Coyne in P4 on Sunday

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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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.