Getty Images

Vautier’s go-for-broke, one-off Texas return dazzles before disaster

1 Comment

Barely more than a week ago, Tristan Vautier had admitted while he hadn’t fully moved on from the Verizon IndyCar Series, he was thrilled and happy to have a solid full-season opportunity in sports cars with Kenny Habul’s SunEnergy1 Racing program with Mercedes-AMG.

Of course, with the nature of how rapid things change in IndyCar and with Dale Coyne Racing needing a driver for tonight’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, Vautier suddenly was the somewhat out-of-left-field choice to fill the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda this weekend with Esteban Gutierrez having not yet taken his first oval test.

Vautier then delivered arguably the surprise standout performance of the season in what is meant to be Sebastien Bourdais’ stead, running the high line to perfection after starting fifth. It was apparent the engineering setup from Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson had the No. 18 car dialed in and Vautier never looked like he’d missed a beat despite not racing an IndyCar since 2015 at Sonoma, and last on an oval Pocono a week earlier that year.

Nonetheless Vautier was a top-five regular for most of the race and even led about a dozen laps. He led 10 at Mid-Ohio in 2015 with Coyne and 2 as a rookie with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2013.

But like several others, including Coyne teammate Ed Jones, Vautier got caught up in the diabolical Lap 153 accident as he got collected by James Hinchcliffe, with nowhere to go. A 16th place finish was hardly the reward or result Vautier deserved.

“There was nothing I could do. They tangled in front of me. It’s just a bummer. We could have fought for the win,” Vautier told NBCSN’s Robin Miller.

“I wanted to finish the race for my return. I raced hard. I wanted a solid finish. I’m kind of pissed off. I think we can be proud. We represented Seb (Bourdais) well.”

Vautier isn’t confirmed for any further IndyCar races as Bourdais’ injury replacement, and would miss a couple weekends anyway for his planned sports car duties with Mercedes-AMG, either with SunEnergy1 (IMSA) or Team AKKA-ASP (Blancpain GT Series).

The July 9 weekend, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park while IndyCar is at Iowa Speedway; July 30, the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup races the TOTAL 24 Hours of Spa while IndyCar is at Mid-Ohio and August 26-27, IMSA is at Virginia International Raceway while IndyCar is at Gateway Motorsports Park on the Saturday night.

Vautier hinted Gutierrez is likely to return for more races, which Gutierrez and Coyne all but confirmed in Detroit, but had made his name stand out with one of the best drives of his IndyCar career.

“Kenny my team owner is such a great person, he supports me beyond my commitments. He wants to see me succeed. If I got the shot, he’d try to free me up for the races that don’t have conflicts… but the team might be set,” Vautier told Miller.

“But I gave it all. I’m happy we maximized everything. We got taken out outside our control. I tried my best to avoid it. Sometimes you can’t avoid it.”

The Coyne team couldn’t avoid another expensive evening, either. With Bourdais’ crashes in Phoenix and Indianapolis qualifying and James Davison’s crash during the race at the Indianapolis 500, there’s now been five wrecked Coyne cars in the last month and a half.

The team was down to just three total tubs at the Detroit weekend, with Gutierrez having made his debut in what was Pippa Mann’s oval chassis – the team’s third car – at Detroit, converted back to road course specification.

Reports: Fernando Alonso to test on September 5 at Barber Motorsports Park

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a number of media stories Thursday afternoon and evening, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will reportedly test an Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday, September 5.

The 2.38-mile permanent road course just outside Birmingham, Alabama, per those stories, will play host to Alonso as he reportedly tests with IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport team and Honda.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) President Art St. Cyr issued a statement late Thursday afternoon about Alonso’s reported upcoming test:

“Fernando Alonso is one of the premier racing drivers of this generation, and we very much enjoyed working with him at the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

“He has shown that he can be very competitive right off the bat, and it would be great for IndyCar if he were to decide to drive here full-time after his F1 career. Having Alonso as a driver would be an obvious benefit for any team or manufacturer.”

However, St. Cyr’s statement also included a reference to Honda potentially not being able to field a new engine for Alonso in the IndyCar series in 2019.

“Our engine lease agreements are made between HPD and specific teams,” St. Cyr’s statement said. “Several of our current IndyCar Series teams already have agreements in place with HPD for the 2019 season, and we have been operating near maximum capacity all year long to properly provide powerful, reliable engines for all of our teams.

“We have had discussions with several current and potential teams for 2019, and those discussions are ongoing.”

Rumors of Alonso potentially racing for a hybrid operation that would include Andretti Autosport, McLaren and Harding Racing have been picking up speed. But there’s one potential major hurdle: Harding’s Dallara’s are powered by Chevrolet engines.

Alonso announced earlier this week that he’d be retiring from Formula One at season’s end, saying he’s looking forward to new adventures.

Because of his loyalty to McLaren, it’s increasingly looking as if Alonso comes to IndyCar, McLaren will have some involvement – although perhaps not as much as it potentially could do if it went all-in with a full-time effort immediately in 2019.

There is no word whether Chevrolet or Harding Racing could potentially be on hand at the Sept. 5 test at BMP, even in just an observation role.

Since being part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Alonso’s desire to become only the second driver to win motorsport’s triple crown – the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – has increased exponentially.

He’s already won the first two; just a Indy 500 triumph remains on his bucket list.

The late Graham Hill is the only driver to have accomplished the triple crown feat to date.

Alonso, who turned 37 on July 29, has made just one prior IndyCar start, in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps of the 200-lap event and appeared to have a car strong enough to win before it suffered engine failure with 21 laps remaining.

Instead of what likely could have been a top-five finish, if not a win, Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar racing ended disappointingly with a 24th-place finish.

In addition to being courted by IndyCar, NASCAR has also jumped into the Alonso sweepstakes, saying he’d be welcome to race in the 2019 Daytona 500.

Follow @JerryBonkowski