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“Unfinished business” - How Vautier became Coyne’s sixth driver in 2024

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Three days was all the notice that Tristan Vautier got that he would be making his IndyCar return, seven years in waiting, before getting on track on the streets of Detroit.

He was only told that he would be returning to Dale Coyne Racing, where he competed in 11 races in 2015 and substituted for Sebastien Bourdais at Texas Motor Speedway in 2019, on Tuesday afternoon. The weekend festivities in Detroit commenced on Thursday.

Come the opening day of track action on Friday, Vautier was still completing the process of fitting into Coyne’s No.51 Honda 45 minutes before practice commenced at 3pm. He only completed his fit into the car in the morning and was still adjusting his belts within the hour leading up to getting on track in an Indy car for the first time since June 2017.

“It’s been a push to make it here,” he said, speaking after opening practice. “No simulator, no testing, nothing. We had a bit of a setback with the seats. My original seats, we had to get it reprinted overnight. It was sent here this morning. We had to take care of all of that this morning.”

The late notice of the move is on-brand for Coyne’s difficulties with sorting their lineups in any prompt fashion this year. It was a matter of days before the season-opening race in St. Petersburg that they announced Jack Harvey and Nolan Siegel would ride-share the No.18 Honda for the season with Colin Braun in the No.51 entry for the opening two events.

The No.51 has remained in limbo since, with Siegel stepping across to that car for Long Beach as part of his four-race deal. Five-time FIA Formula 2 race-winner Luca Ghiotto was announced for the next two races only one day before getting on track at Barber Motorsports Park after finding out at short notice.

Katherine Legge was only confirmed to be running the Indianapolis 500 in the No.51 entry one day before the annual open test in April. So Vautier’s three days of notice is not unusual for Coyne’s drivers amid uncertainty within the team this year.

Vautier has maintained “a very good relationship” with team owner Dale Coyne after his part-campaign with the team in 2015, which was the last time he drove on a street course in IndyCar. His career-best result came in Detroit on the old Belle Isle circuit that year.

“We had a good second half of the season in 2015 together where we were fourth in Detroit,” Vautier said. “I think we always had a bit of a feeling of unfinished business after that good race in Texas in 2017 where it was really good until we got caught out in a group accident. Since then we always kind of joked about the fact he might arise. 

“Dale always says you never know. This year there were quite a [few] rotating drivers on the second car. I pushed really hard for him to give me another shot. “Thanks to him for having a long memory and putting me back in the car.”

Vautier, who was the 2012 Indy Lights champion, has spent the majority of his career in sports cars after the IndyCar route failed to work out. He was the IndyCar Rookie of the Year in his only complete season in the series in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports but has mostly established himself in the closed-cockpit world.

He has recently competed in the premier classes in IMSA and, last year, the World Endurance Championship - one highlight being picking up overall victory with JDC-Miller Motorsports in IMSA’s Sebring 12 Hours in 2021. 

Switching back to single-seaters is a challenge in itself, let alone on a street course as tight and bumpy as Detroit. But almost nine years on from his last IndyCar street course race, Vautier is enjoying getting back up to speed.

“It’s good - a lot of fun,” he said after the opening practice session in Detroit on Friday. “At the end of the session when I started feeling a bit more comfortable, I got going, it was really cool.”

Last time Vautier raced in IndyCar, the aeroscreen was not a feature of the Dallara DW12. But the most difficult thing to adapt to has been “the dimension of the car” given he has not been used to sitting centrally in a car for many years. After his first outing this weekend, he said one of the toughest things was knowing what the margin was to the wall.

“You kind of forget about the aeroscreen once you’re driving,” he said. “I’ve been driving closed cars since the last time I was in an IndyCar. That was fine. I think I feel the extra weight from the aeroscreen, maybe a little bit less grip at the centre of the corner. It’s been so long that it’s really kind of hard to compare. I start from zero.”

Vautier is not aiming too high for his first - and maybe only - weekend back in IndyCar. A successful weekend would simply be “making a step every session” across the weekend.

“I want to see the chequered, have a solid race with no mistakes,” he said. “I don’t want to put a results goal, just try to execute my best every time I’m in the car. I was like: ‘Just make sure every lap counts [in practice] and don’t make a mistake so you don’t lose track time. It’s hard to balance because you have a lot of ground to make up. 

“Honestly, I don’t want to give a target as far as the result of the race or qualifying because it’s too early to say and will take our focus off the task.”

Vautier will not be in the car for the next race regardless of how the Detroit weekend goes given he has reserve driver duties with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cadillac Racing Hypercar effort for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Any further chances across the season “would be up to Dale” and it is “hard to know” how things will pan out.

“I’ve got to do my best to convince him to put me back in the car for more,” Vautier said. “At the moment, I’ll do my best. I’ll just try to make the best impression I can and get more shots.”

Vautier would be open to venturing back down the IndyCar route after his career never took off despite being a multi-time Road to Indy champion.

“I’ve never really been able to plan my career,” he said. “It’s been like… get opportunities wherever you can and make the most of them and see where it leads you. I don’t really have a plan. It’s whatever car I can get into and do the best possible - hopefully [it] will lead me to opportunities. 

“It would be nice to keep going that [IndyCar] route. I enjoy IndyCar a lot. If I could find a way to get back in the series here, I would love it. But I don’t really have a plan. The plan is every time I’m in the car, give my best, show the best I can, see what doors it can open.”


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