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Vautier Takes Gutierrez Seat For TMS IndyCar Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 8 2017

Former F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez could not meet IndyCar standards at Texas. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Former Formula One regular Esteban Gutierrez’s lack of oval-track experience _ he has none _ has paved the way for Tristan Vautier to compete in Saturday night’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Gutierrez was black-flagged, in a good way, by INDYCAR officials who cited a lack of time to test the 25-year-old native of Mexico prior to Friday night’s event. Gutierrez made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut last weekend for Dale Coyne Racing in place of the injured Sebatien Bourdais on the 2.35-mile Belle Isle Raceway street-course in Detroit. Gutierrez started and finished 19th in the first 70-lap race on Saturday and returned Sunday to start 19th and finish 14th.

Gutierrez is a veteran of three full FIA Formula One World Championship seasons, including American-owned Haas F1 Team’s inaugural campaign in 2016 as teammate to Frenchman Romain Grosjean. Gutierrez was released during the offseason and replaced by Kevin Magnussen of Denmark.

Vautier, the 2012 Indy Lights Series champion, is familiar with Coyne’s organization, having made 11 of his 30 career Verizon IndyCar Series starts with the team. Vautier will team with rookie Ed Jones on TMS’ repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval while Bourdais continues to recuperate from injuries sustained May 20 during an Indy 500 qualifying accident.

Vautier’s tenure with DCR came in 2015 when he competed in the final 11 races of the season and recorded a top finish of fourth during the second race of the Belle Isle weekend in Motown.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back in an Indy car and race for Dale again,” said Vautier, a 27-year-old Frenchman. “But before talking about me stepping in, let’s all keep sending our thoughts to Seb for a quick recovery. I was happy to see him at the track at Indy on race day. I have big shoes to fill.

“That being said, I really can’t wait to be in the car on Friday and see how it feels that first lap around. It’s not the easiest place to step back in and practice is going to be very limited, but the team has been competitive everywhere and I trust we’ll be good.” Opening practice Friday is scheduled for 11 a.m. (EDT) and set for 75 minutes.

Vautier will be the third driver to substitute for Bourdais in as many weeks. Australian James Davison was the first, logging a 20th-place finish in the 101st Indianapolis 500 on May 28.

“We chose Tristan to fill the (No.) 18 seat at Texas because of his previous experience at Texas Motor Speedway,” Coyne said. “We think he can help the team and Ed, who has never raced or even tested there. Tristan has remained close with the team and he’s always done a good job for us. I expect much of the same going into this race weekend.”

Vautier has two starts at TMS _ one in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and another in 2015 with Coyne. In 2013, he started 24th and finished 18th. In 2015, he started 16th and finished 20th. Vautier has been driving this season for SunEnergy1 Racing in the GTD class of the IMSA SportsCar Championship.

The Rainguard Water Sealers 600 will be the 29th Indy car event conducted at “The Great American Speedway” since the track opened in 1997. TMS hosted two races a year from 1998-2004 and featured a doubleheader event in 2011. Saturday’s race, scheduled for 248 laps/357.12 miles, will be televised by NBC Sports Network beginning at 8 p.m. (EDT), as well as on Sirius XMRadio.

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A ninth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 has earned Gabby Chaves another start behind the wheel of Harding Racing’s No. 88 Chevrolet this weekend in Cowtown.

“We went into Indy with the mentality that if we got out of there clean, we would try to run Texas and Pocono,” said Larry Curry, team manager and competition director. “And we definitely got out of there clean. We were just all elated that we had the run that we had. For a new team, you figure we started putting these cars together in January. Built two brand-new cars, went down and did a little shakedown test in Texas and then came to Indy and came home with a ninth-place finish.”

The plan for Harding Racing going forward, Curry added, is to join the series fulltime beginning next season with Chaves behind the wheel. Chaves is under a two-year contract agreement with the team.

Chaves has logged 24 Verizon IndyCar Series career starts, with his only fulltime season in 2015 when he competed for BHA with Curb-Agajanian and was named Rookie of the Year. The 23-year-old native of Colombia has two career starts at TMS, including a career-best finish of 10th in 2015.

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A.J. Foyt Jr. has experienced a touch of nostalgia concerning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Foyt used to say, “I went there as a rookie and won, I have no reason to go back.” But with the 50th anniversary of that iconic moment in American motorsports history looming, Foyt has decided to return to the Circuit de la Sarthe for the 85th edition on June 17-18.

Foyt and Californian Dan Gurney became the only all-American team to win the French endurance classic in June 1967, driving a red Ford GT40 MkIV built in the United States. As a guest of Ford Performance, “Super Tex” will visit the track and its museum and be reunited with the winning No. 1 car.

Foyt saw the car in April, when he was awarded the prestigious Spirit of Ford Award. The car was then loaned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum in May as part of an exhibit honoring the 40th anniversary of Foyt’s fourth Indy 500 victory and career. “A.J. Foyt: A Legendary Exhibition” presented by ABC Supply Co., Inc., will run through Oct.31. With additional support from Alfe Heat Treating and Chevrolet, the exhibit features nearly three dozen race cars Foyt drove, as well as rare memorabilia from his personal collection.

The winning Ford since has been shipped to France, awaiting A.J.’s arrival from TMS and Saturday’s “Original Nighttime IndyCar Race.” A.J. Foyt Racing fields the Chevrolet-powered Indy cars driven by Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the course again,” Foyt said. “I know it changed a lot over the past 50 years _ I probably won’t even recognize it.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 8 2017
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