DETROIT – Esteban Gutierrez, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ newest driver, paused several seconds before answering a reporter’s question in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear media center.
“Next May, where would you rather be, Monaco or Indianapolis?” he was asked.
Gutierrez, the ex-Sauber and Haas driver in Formula One, is in the Motor City substituting for Dale Coyne Racing’s injured Sebastien Bourdais in this weekend’s doubleheader. He’d just taken his first practice laps of the 2.35-mile Raceway at Belle Isle temporary street course in the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda.
“That’s a really good question,” smiled Gutierrez, 25, who competed in F1 in 2013-14 (Sauber) and 2016 (Haas). “I would love to try the Indy 500. I watched the race and it’s a real exciting race. It’s pure driving, pure racing.
“It requires so many factors. I think what Fernando (Alonso) experienced, I know Fernando very well, so I could see the smile on his face all the time, so I could realize that it is something I have to try.”
Two-time world champion Alonso, the McLaren F1 ace, finished 24th in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, leading 27 laps but suffering a mechanical failure on Lap 180. He skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to compete in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Gutierrez had never driven an Indy car until today at Belle Isle and admitted he was on a learning curve in unfamiliar machinery on a wall-lined, bumpy and narrow track.
“Takes a bit of time to get used to a different car, especially coming into a weekend where there is … few practice and track time,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez, from Monterrey, Mexico, said driving in the Verizon IndyCar Series is special.
“It’s an honor to represent Mexico now in INDYCAR,” said Gutierrez, who follows in the footsteps of former Mexican standouts including Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain Jr. “It’s a pleasure to be here in INDYCAR with this family.”
Gutierrez said he snapped up the offer to drive for Coyne. For now, the deal is for this weekend only, though Gutierrez would like it to continue for the rest of the season or until Bourdais recovers from pelvis and hip fractures sustained May 20 in Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
“Everything came (together) very quickly,” said Gutierrez. “From the first time I received a call from Dale (Coyne), I said I didn’t think about it twice. I really wanted to take this chance and I feel very grateful for it, to have this opportunity. Dale Coyne is a great place to start, and I’m grateful to be there with them.”
Gutierrez will have two races this weekend – one Saturday and another Sunday – in the unique doubleheader format.
“My approach this weekend is to learn,” Gutierrez said. “So, I’ll take it step by step very progressively, no mistakes, just enjoying the experience and the speed will come naturally.”
Gutierrez turned 20 laps at speed in the morning practice, finishing 21st on the time sheet with a best lap of 1 minute, 18.2289 seconds (108.144 mph). The 45-minute session served as Gutierrez’s introduction to the Indy car.
“The cars (in the Verizon IndyCar Series) are pretty much equal between teams, and that gives you the opportunity to show or to do more as a driver and to influence more on that side,” said Gutierrez. “The fact you have no power steering makes it also very different (from F1). You have so much feedback from the car. The feeling really is much harder, but it’s better because you get the feedback that you have from the tires, from the car, from the movements, the vibrations … and this helps you a lot to understand the car better. Not many buttons to think about.”
Gutierrez also said he enjoys the open nature of the INDYCAR paddock. Formula One fans find it more difficult to interact with their favorite drivers, who are kept at a distance. INDYCAR drivers are the most accessible of any major series and Gutierrez already took advantage of the chance to mingle with fans at Belle Isle.
“Yes, I had the chance, and I love it,” said Gutierrez. “I love to share with the fans because most of those fans … are so passionate about racing that sometimes you learn from them, from history. The openness that INDYCAR has with fans makes it quite different.”
Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix action continues Saturday with Race 1 qualifying at 10:05 a.m. ET (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). Coverage of the 70-lap race begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Sunday’s schedule is similar to that of Saturday, with Race 2 qualifying at 10:45 a.m. (RaceControl.IndyCar.com) and the 70-lap race at 3:30 p.m. (ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.