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

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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.

IndyCar releases schedule for 2023 season

IndyCar schedule 2023
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The NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 schedule will feature the same number of races and tracks as this season with some minor reshuffling of dates.

IndyCar will open the 2023 season March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and will conclude Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The 107th Indy 500 will take place May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 17-race schedule will conclude with a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks.

“The NTT IndyCar Series is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

There will be 15 events on NBC: 13 races (including six of the final seven) plus Indy 500 qualifying May 20-21. There also are three races on USA Network and the Toronto race exclusively on Peacock. All races on NBC and USA also will have live simulstreams on Peacock.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 IndyCar season was the most-watched in six years and the most-watched across NBC Sports on record. The 2022 season also was the most streamed season on record.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” NBC Sports vice president of programming Mike Perman said in a release. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Notable elements on the 2023 schedule:

–There will be the same balance of seven road course races, five street courses and five ovals.

–St. Pete will be the season opener for the 13th time.

–The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle to the streets of downtown.

–The NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the IMS road course will shift to mid-August.

–The World Wide Technology Raceway event will move from Saturday to Sunday.

Start times for the 2023 events will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the 2023 IndyCar schedule:


Date Race/Track Network/Platform
Sun., March 5 Streets of St. Petersburg NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 2 Texas Motor Speedway NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 16 Streets of Long Beach NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 30 Barber Motorsports Park NBC, Peacock
Sat., May 13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) NBC, Peacock
Sun., May 28 The 107th Indianapolis 500 NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 4 Streets of Detroit NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 18 Road America USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 16 Streets of Toronto Peacock
Sat., July 22 Iowa Speedway – Race 1 NBC, Peacock
Sun., July 23 Iowa Speedway – Race 2 NBC, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 6 Streets of Nashville NBC, Peacock
Sat., Aug. 12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) USA Network, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 27 World Wide Technology Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 3 Portland International Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 10 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca NBC, Peacock

*dates and networks/platforms are subject to change