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Vautier quickly back up to speed with Coyne

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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.

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Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 Shootout

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Michael Carter was selected as the winner of the 2018 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout.

Carter was one of four drivers who competed for the honor and a $100,000 scholarship that went along with it. Matthew Dirks, Hannah Grisham and Loni Unser also competed.

With the scholarship, Carter will compete in the 2019 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup.

“What a journey this has been,” said Carter in a press release. “The reason I started racing a Mazda was because of the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. It was our one single goal all along and to finally accomplish that is surreal. The process begins next week of getting ready for next season, for the series test at Barber, and to put together a good season in the Global MX-5 Cup.”

Carter was invited to the Shootout largely because of his 2018 performance in SCCA. He finished second in the SCCA Hoosier Super Tour Points Championship, won the Spec Miata Challenge and won in Spec Miata at the American Road Race of Champions.

The 18-year-old Carter had his eye on the Road to Mazda early.

“Each year, it is exciting to see the next batch of talent that is in the pipeline,” said John Doonan, Director, Mazda Motorsports. “I heard something from Michael and his father that really hit a chord with me which was that they built a Spec Miata with the sole purpose of going up the Mazda Road to 24 ladder.

That really speaks to the challenger spirit at Mazda, to why we have the Shootout, and to the family that we have at Mazda. Michael is the driver today who walks away with the scholarship, but we had four families come together here who have all gone racing together. For all of us at Mazda, it’s very rewarding to give these families a chance to go racing together. We look forward to watching Michael take the next step in his career in next season’s Global MX-5 Cup.”