Gutierrez confirmed for rest of year at Coyne after TBA saga

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Esteban Gutierrez’s winding road to being confirmed in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda for the remainder of the 2017 season, starting at Road America for this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series KOHLER Grand Prix, has come only after a circuitous few weeks since his series debut in Detroit earlier this month.

On Thursday morning, the Coyne team has confirmed Gutierrez will be in the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda for the remaining races until Sebastien Bourdais returns. This ends a driver rotation since his accident in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on May 20. James Davison, Gutierrez and Tristan Vautier have been in the car since.

As for Gutierrez, he made his debut on the street course at Belle Isle Park, only for his FIA Formula E Championship team Techeetah to have alleged a breach of contract by Gutierrez for taking on the IndyCar opportunity to replace the injured Sebastien Bourdais with Coyne.

Team owner Coyne told IndyCar Radio at Detroit he expected Gutierrez in for Road America and said he’d have a test day later in the month.

The next obstacle for Gutierrez was seeing if he could get an oval test to race at Texas Motor Speedway. But with IndyCar on a test blackout those days in-between Detroit and Texas, that wasn’t cleared, and Vautier filled in.

Gutierrez indeed tested at Road America on June 14 as scheduled, however was doing so under the auspices that he couldn’t post anything about it nor could the team say anything about it, reportedly due to the ongoing Formula E situation whereby Stephane Sarrazin wound up replacing Gutierrez at Techeetah. Gutierrez briefly posted a tweet from the test, but deleted it mere moments later.

Sarrazin was only cleared by the stewards mere hours before the start of the Berlin ePrix weekend as it was deemed a late driver change.

While Gutierrez was, again, still expected for Road America, the fact Team AKKA-ASP announced Renger van der Zande to fill in for Vautier in the team’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 at the weekend’s Blancpain Endurance Series race at Paul Ricard stoked rumors that Vautier might have an encore performance after his Texas showcase. The entry list was released on Tuesday with TBA by Coyne’s No. 18 car.

Alas, the long and short of all of this is Gutierrez is in for Elkhart Lake to kick off the rest of his season, and now has a test day in an IndyCar under his belt and past race experience there in Formula BMW, albeit a decade ago.

“I’m very happy to finally announce my racing program for the rest of the season,” Gutierrez said. “To represent Mexico in the Verizon IndyCar Series has a huge significance to all the fans that have been following the series through history and I’m very grateful to fill in this position.

“IndyCar has highly competitive teams and drivers and the challenge for me will be great, but I will use all my experience from Formula 1 with Sauber, Haas F1 Team and Ferrari in order to adapt quickly to the car and the tracks. I look forward to continue working with Dale Coyne Racing and Honda, I put my trust in them to achieve great results together. I cannot wait to jump in my Unifin #18 car at Road America this weekend!”

Coyne added, “We’re very pleased that Esteban can join us for the remainder of the season. Esteban did a very good job in Detroit despite having a lot to learn in a short amount of time. He fit in very well with the team and I look forward to our next races with him, starting with Road America this week.”

Qualifying coverage on NBCSN takes place Saturday at 5 p.m. ET with the race live Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.