Tristan Vautier last competed in a Verizon IndyCar Series event in 2015 at the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma from Sonoma Raceway. Coincidentally, that start came with Dale Coyne Racing, with whom he competed in the 2015 season from the Indianapolis 500 onwards.
Fast forward to 2017, and Coyne again drafted him in, this time as a replacement for Esteban Gutierrez, who had not been cleared to race on ovals prior to this weekend’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Despite the lack of IndyCar seat time since 2015, Vautier, who has two previous starts at Texas (2015 with Coyne, and 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) did not miss a beat. The 27-year-old quickly reacclimated himself and qualified the No. 18 Honda an impressive fifth, by far his best grid position at Texas. Prior to Friday, his best qualifying result at the 1.5-mile oval was 16th in 2015.
Vautier admitted afterward that, while the results say it didn’t take him long to get up to speed, he was apprehensive about his return. “I was a bit nervous, to be honest, just to know how it was going to feel, that first lap out. On a road course maybe not, but here on an oval, it’s a difficult place. I was just kind of anxious to get in the car and see how it would be, but after three or four laps, it was OK,” he said of his return to IndyCar machinery on an oval track.
Vautier then quickly acknowledged the team’s preparation and explained that their strong pace made the process go much more smoothly. “The team made it easy because the car was so good from the start,” he asserted. “It’s really cool to work with these guys, Craig (Hampson, engineer), Olivier (Boisson, engineer) and obviously the rest of the team. The car has felt really nice from the start and it’s really helped me out.”
Tomorrow’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 rolls off at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.