Photo: IndyCar

Post-Detroit debut, Gutierrez likely set to continue with Coyne

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DETROIT – Esteban Gutierrez has made his Verizon IndyCar Series weekend debut this morning aboard the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for the first of what is likely to be a significant number of races at Dale Coyne Racing.

While nothing is confirmed yet, Coyne and Gutierrez are working towards an extension that will see Gutierrez in the car for most, if not all, remaining races as the injury replacement for Sebastien Bourdais until Bourdais’ return.

After the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear this weekend, IndyCar moves to the Texas Motor Speedway oval (Saturday, June 10, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the 1.5-mile oval that could be Gutierrez’s oval debut if he is confirmed for that race.

Coyne unofficially confirmed Gutierrez for Road America during an interview with NBCSN pit reporter Katie Hargitt on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network during free practice one, as part of a plan to keep the 25-year-old Mexican in further as the year goes on.

“This weekend, he hasn’t tested. Never been in one of these cars. (They’re) his first laps,” Coyne told Hargitt. “This is just a learning weekend. I don’t think until Road America where can actually do a test day that he’ll on his game.”

Asked whether Gutierrez is set to continue the rest of the way, Coyne responded, “That’s the plan.”

Coyne explained to Hargitt why he brought Gutierrez into the team: “We just looked at his resume. He’s won GP3, be third in GP2, which is highly competitive, hard to read F1 resume, because teams are so different. He’s a good friend of Adrian Fernandez, we talked to Adrian about him, said it was pretty easy.”

During his first formal media availability Gutierrez stopped short of confirming himself for further races as well, but strongly hinted he’ll be in a car further races. A special Unifin blue and white firesuit for Coyne with his name on it also highly suggests a busier schedule.

“So far I’m enjoying it a lot, and yeah, I think it’s important to think on Detroit right now,” Gutierrez said. “Hopefully I can do the rest of the season. This is what I want. So yeah, hopefully we can get things organized so that everything goes forward.”

Gutierrez has three would-be Formula E conflicts ahead at Berlin (June 10-11), New York City (July 15-16) and Montreal (July 29-30) with Techeetah. He’s only raced three FE rounds and told NBC Sports that they’re still working out whether he’ll continue in FE for any or all of those three weekends.

Additionally, Gutierrez said he’d be keen to do an IndyCar oval race if the opportunity presents itself. He also took after Fernando Alonso in saying he’s interested in running the Indianapolis 500.

“No, I never have (driven on an oval), and hopefully if I have the chance that I can at least do a test day before that, so that will be important for me to get a feeling,” he said.

“It’s completely new to me, but I’m very keen to learn and to go there and try out. I mean, I’m a racer. I like challenges, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

For Indy, Gutierrez took a long pause when asked whether he’d want to be in Monaco or Indianapolis next year on Memorial Day weekend, which elicited a lot of laughs.

“That’s a really good question,” he paused, before saying, “I would love to try the Indy 500.

“I watched the race, and it’s a real racing race. It’s pure driving, pure racing. It requires so many factors around. I mean, I think what Fernando experienced, I know Fernando very well, so I could see a smile on his face all the time, so I could realize that it’s something I have to try.”

This is not Gutierrez’s first time racing in America as he raced in Formula BMW USA in 2007, a year where he beat Alexander Rossi in the championship. He also beat Rossi in the year he won the 2010 GP3 Series, in a year when Josef Newgarden among other notable names also competed.

He hasn’t had much in the way of other drivers saying hi to him yet but only because he just arrived in the U.S. a couple days ago.

“I’ve spoken to a few of them, not everybody because I came very quickly. We just arrived here two days ago,” he said. “But yes, I mean, it seems that it’s very nice to come back to America from 2007 when I was racing Formula BMW here. I know very well tracks like Road America, which is one of my favorite tracks in the world, and I’m very keen to hopefully have the chance to race there again with an IndyCar in the following races.

“But yeah, regarding the drivers I competed with, it’s going to come natural. I mean, obviously being here, spending more time here, I will be able to speak with them. It’s been a long time, so many years in between, so I’m sure we can share a lot of experiences.”

It’s quite a baptism by bumps for Gutierrez in Detroit, as he called it the bumpiest track he’s ever raced on.

“It’s probably one of the trickiest tracks in the calendar, so it’s been quite enjoyable to get there in the IndyCar for the first time, getting to know the car,” he said.

“It’s a little bit bumpier than the video footage I had from the previous year. I was pleased to get on track and to say, okay, it’s not as bad as I saw on the videos.

“But definitely it’s something new for me. I mean, to have this amount of bumps, you know, the changes of the surface, you have concrete, you have asphalt, you have — everything is changing so the tires are reacting differently, so obviously it’s another factor on top of learning the car is also to learn the differences between the surfaces.

“Obviously my first goal right now is to feel comfortable, to learn. I have a great team behind me supporting me, giving me all the available information for me to get up to speed as quick as possible, right, because we know that coming from a Formula 1 experience, from Formula E, takes a bit of time to get used to a different car, especially coming into a weekend where there is quite few practice and track time.”

Gutierrez only had one session but has hailed the Dallara DW12 chassis and Honda power unit as well, in noting how similar the cars are across the board compared to F1.

“It’s more natural. The cars are pretty much equal between the teams, and that gives you the opportunity to show or let’s say to do more as a driver and to influence more on that side,” he said.

“Also the level of communication with the engineers to fine tune the car, suiting the driver — the driving style. Also — I mean, yeah, in general, yeah, I’m very happy, and the fact that you have no power steering makes it also very different.

“You have so much feedback from the car. The feeling really is much harder, but it’s much better because you get the feedback that you have from the tires, from the car, from the movements, the vibrations, and this helps you a lot to understand the car better. Not many buttons to think about.”

Gutierrez will be back in action for his second practice later this afternoon.

Are you a racer looking for the fountain of youth? Try NHRA drag racing

Photos courtesy NHRA
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It used to be that many of the big-name race car drivers routinely raced into their 50s, most notably in NASCAR.

Richard Petty raced until he was 55. The late David Pearson was 54 when he last raced in NASCAR.

But these days, we’re seeing the majority of professional racers calling it quits in their early-to-mid 40s – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and most recently, Jamie McMurray.

But that’s not the case for competitors in the National Hot Rod Association. Like fine wine, it seems that the kings of the drag strip only seem to get better and more successful with age.

To them, the “r word” is not “retire,” it’s “reaction time.”

Consider many of today’s stars in the NHRA and their respective ages:

* Funny Car legend John Force will turn 70 in May. And while he hasn’t won a championship since 2013, Force remains one of the biggest forces – no pun intended – in the sport.

Fellow Funny Car drivers still seemingly in their prime include Ron Capps (53 years old), Jack Beckman (52), Tim Wilkerson (turns 58 on Dec. 29), Cruz Pedregon (55) and Gary Densham (62).

* In Top Fuel, the winningest driver and record eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will turn 49 on Dec. 25. Those already on the other side of the 50-year-old line include Clay Millican (52), Doug Kalitta (54), Terry McMillen (64), Billy Torrence (60) and Cory McClenathan (turns 56 on Jan. 30).

Chris Karamesines

And let’s not forget the oldest active drag racer on the NHRA professional circuit (albeit part-time rather than full-time), Chicago native Chris Karamesines, who is still racing a Top Fuel dragster at 300-plus mph at the spry young age of 87 years old!

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 87 – but could easily pass for 67 – and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

* Ironically, the slower Pro Stock class is not as well-represented in the 50-and-over group as is Top Fuel and Funny Car, with only two regulars who have passed the half-century mark: four-time champ Greg Anderson (57) and Kenny Delco (65).

But that 50-and-above fraternity will add at least one other member next year when former champ Jason Line turns 50 on July 24. And five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. will turn 50 in 2020.

Jerry Savoie

* Even the easy riders of Pro Stock Motorcycle have several 50-and-over competitors: Scotty Pollacheck (turns 50 on Feb. 8), 2016 champ Jerry Savoie (turns 60 on Feb. 23), Karen Stofer (54), Steve Johnson (turns 58 on Jan. 19) and Hector Arana (60).

Granted, drag racers don’t have the same grueling time spent behind the wheel. Their average run lasts from just over 3.5 seconds to maybe eight or nine seconds.

And unlike driving 400 or 500 laps or miles as in NASCAR, a full four-round race during Sunday eliminations for NHRA racers adds up to one whole mile – or less.

Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers only go a distance of 1,000 feet per run, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle go a full quarter-mile (1,320 feet) in their respective runs.

In a sense, hitting the 5-0 mark or higher has become somewhat of a fountain of youth for several racers.

For example, Capps won his first career Funny Car crown in 2016 at the age of 51.

The same year, Savoie won his first career PSM title at the age of 57.

And Force won his most recent Funny Car title in 2013 at the age of 64.

Force has already gone on record to say that he wants to become the first major pro champion to win a title at 70 years old – which would also become the 17th championship of his illustrious career as the winningest driver in all NHRA history.

He gets a chance toward doing just that when the 2019 NHRA season kicks off at Pomona, California, on Feb. 7-10.

Follow @JerryBonkowski