It’s not every day that a driver starts out racing for a new team at the Indianapolis 500.
But that’s what happened for French driver Tristan Vautier. After missing the first five races of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series, Vautier made his debut with Dale Coyne Racing in this year’s 500 (started 32nd and finished 28th).
Now, nine races into his stint with the Illinois-based IndyCar team, Vautier is starting to pay dividends.
In Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, he not only led a race for the first time this season and for only the third time in his IndyCar career, he actually was in contention for much of the event, eventually finishing sixth.
Having started from the back of the 24-car field, Vautier quickly moved up through the pack, taking the lead on Lap 23 and holding on for the next 10 circuits around the 2.258-mile road course.
In so doing, Vautier showed he can not only wheel his way to the front, but can stay there for a prolonged period of time.
“Coming home sixth (Sunday) is great for me and for the team,” said the native of Corenc, France. “I had a blast out there.
“The car was good; we had a really fast car. I was able to put in some very good lap times while saving some fuel. It was great to be able to lead some laps with such a good race car.”
Sunday’s sixth-place showing was Vautier’s second-best finish of the season thus far. He finished fourth at Belle Isle 2.
While he suffered a setback after Belle Isle when he finished 20th at Texas due to a bad wheel bearing, Vautier has been back on a steady climb upward performance-wise.
Starting with Texas, he’s finished 20th, 17th, 17th, 16th, 12th and sixth in his last six starts.
Now, Vautier looks to build upon the momentum gained from Mid-Ohio in the series’ next race, the ABC Supply Co. Inc. 500, Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway.
And at the same time, potentially give himself a heck of a birthday present, as he turns 26 one day earlier on Aug. 22.
“I am really thankful to Dale (Coyne) for having me in the car,” Vautier said. “It is an awesome group of people. (The team) is a small group of great people and I am having a blast this year.”
Vautier ran the entire season in 2013 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, finishing 20th in the standings. After his contract was not renewed, he sat out 2014 (although made four appearances in the Tudor United Sports Car Championship) and the first five races of 2015 before Coyne called and offered him a ride.
Vautier is currently 21st in the standings with two races remaining on the schedule.
“It was a really good job by Honda to have such good fuel mileage and great performance,” he said of Mid-Ohio. “Overall, it was a great end to our race weekend.”
And potentially the start of an even better weekend in two weeks.