FORT WORTH, Texas – Tristan Vautier’s stellar run in Saturday night’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 ended in a multi-car accident not of his own doing.
Vautier, racing for Dale Coyne Racing as a substitute for the injured Sebastien Bourdais, led 15 early laps in the 248-lap event at Texas Motor Speedway until he was swept up in a nine-car incident on Lap 152.
“It’s a shame because I raced clean all night trying to see the checkered,” Vautier said. “I really wanted to be at the end for my return race and we get taken out in something out of our control.”
The driver of the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda started fifth in the race, but within 15 laps challenged pole sitter Charlie Kimball for the lead. Vautier was one of the first to try the high line as he and Kimball went side-by-side and swapped the lead for the entire opening stint.
“The car was hooked up,” he said. “I was running a bit more downforce than the Ganassi guys. I was the one that made (the high line) work the earliest in the race than everybody started making it work.”
The 27-year-old Frenchman pressured Will Power for the race lead during the second stint, but faded later as his tires began to wear. Vautier dropped as low as ninth place before he was able to pit for fresh tires and fuel on Lap 95 during the caution for Helio Castroneves’ crash.
“I started to get really, really loose,” Vautier said. “I was just trying to hang on until the next stop and not spin the car. I knew with how much grip I had, even if I was losing positions, I could make it back.”
The 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series rookie of the year resumed his march to the front after taking the Lap 106 restart from seventh position. Vautier was running eighth on Lap 152 when he unfortunately had a perfect view of what triggered the incident that ended his night.
Tony Kanaan, in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda, made contact with James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda entering Turn 3, starting a crash involving nine cars – including Vautier.
“I had nowhere to go,” he said. “For a while you think you can make it. Instinctively, you just turn left down below the apron. My right front touched Hinch’s car and it took off and broke my suspension and sent me straight into the wall.”
Vautier finished 15th. Considering his excellent run to that point, Vautier was disappointed to be eliminated but happy with his pace considering it was his first time in an Indy car since the 2015 season finale.
“It’s a shame there were 100 laps to go,” he added. “We were strong and we were driving hard, but I wanted to see the checkered and, when there were situations like that, I was trying to be smart.
“I was trying to show people I could run a solid race and not go desperate because it was my one race back. It’s sad to end it like that, but it showed well and we did our best.”
Team owner Dale Coyne has not decided who will be in the No. 18 Honda in two weeks at Road America. Vautier has no regrets and knows he gave it his best effort, even if this is his only opportunity.
“It was just amazing for me,” he said. “It was the best oval car I have ever driven. I sincerely hope I will be back in INDYCAR, but if I never go back, I will look back on this amazing experience on an oval. It boosted my confidence and it showed that if I have a good car, I can fight in the front with the best guys.”