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Gutierrez impresses on debut with Coyne

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It is never easy to join the Verizon IndyCar Series in the middle of a season. It’s even harder when you haven’t even made an IndyCar start in your career.

That was the challenge facing Esteban Gutierrez this weekend at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. Subbing for the injured Sebastien Bourdais, Gutierrez was only confirmed to drive the No. 18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing on June 1, one day before practice began for the Detroit doubleheader.

And despite being a veteran of three Formula 1 seasons (two with Sauber F1 team from 2013-2014 and one with Haas F1 Team in 2016) and contesting three events in this season’s FIA Formula E Championship, he had never driven an IndyCar until morning practice on Friday.

Esteban Gutierrez waves to the fans at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear. Photo: IndyCar

Still, the 25-year-old proved his mettle by making progress throughout the weekend, finishing 19th in Race 1 and 14th in Race 2. Though unspectacular, it was a successful debut for the 25-year-old, who brought the car home in one piece in both races with no apparent mistakes. He immediately gave credit to Dale Coyne Racing for making the transition go as smoothly as possible.

“I’m very pleased and very grateful with the support I got from the team,” he said after Race 1 on Saturday. “It’s been very important for me to get into a rhythm. Obviously, it was a very big challenge to throw ourselves into a weekend at Detroit. A very difficult track and not knowing the car.”

While Race 1 was admittedly about settling into a rhythm, Gutierrez began showing competitive form in Race 2, where he had a stout battle with Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti late in the day. While their battle was outside the top ten, with Gutierrez eventually finishing 14th, the weekend ended on a positive note and Gutierrez is hopeful for more opportunities.

“It was a fantastic experience,” he said of his IndyCar debut weekend. “I really loved the experience this weekend, we have fantastic mechanics and engineers that supported me and helped me get comfortable with the car and all the procedures. It was pretty special and I look forward to more, hopefully.”

Though no official announcements have been made, expectations are that Gutierrez will continue with Dale Coyne Racing for further races this year.

The status of whether Gutierrez will race at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend will come in the next day or two, as he’d need a rookie test scheduled before being cleared to race.

It will likely fall to a team veteran to fill in for Gutierrez at Texas if he is not able to test first.

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F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.