ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – It’s a little bit of familiarity for Esteban Gutierrez with this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America.
The 25-year-old Mexican, who drove to finishes of 19th and 14th in his Verizon IndyCar Series debut at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader, was confirmed Thursday in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda for the remainder of the 2017 campaign.
Racing at the 4.014-mile, 14-turn permanent road course takes the former Formula One driver back to his roots, literally. In 2007, Gutierrez drove wheel to wheel against another Verizon IndyCar Series driver, Alexander Rossi, in a Formula BMW USA series doubleheader at the picturesque Wisconsin circuit. Gutierrez finished runner-up to Rossi in a photo finish by 0.004 of a second in the first race but won the second race en route to finishing second in the championship as a rookie.
“It's a track that I enjoy a lot,” said Gutierrez, who finished 17th on the combined Verizon IndyCar Series practice chart today (1 minute, 44.0868 seconds, 138.830 mph).
“It's one of my favorite tracks. I have great memories from 2007 when I was racing Formula BMW USA. I was actually fighting my way from the back of the field in one of the races. I got up to second. We finished with a very small margin at the start/finish line. It was a very enjoyable moment, a great race that I have very close in my memory.
“Coming back quite many years after, 10 years after, I'm very excited to get into an Indy car. Very powerful, very grippy, really nice racing car. It's really a nice experience to do every lap in this track.”
Filling in for the injured Sebastien Bourdais, Gutierrez has leaned on the four-time Indy car champion to help navigate the technical aspects of the car. However, team owner Dale Coyne is resting the remainder of his season on the shoulders of an all-rookie lineup with Gutierrez and reigning Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion Ed Jones.
“It's all about sharing information after each session,” said Gutierrez. “It’s about contributing. Obviously, he has more experience than me in an Indy car, and he has proven to be quite good here. We've been always together in the meetings, me trying to understand what is his way of working through the weekend with the setup of the car.
“In my case, I'm very open, because obviously I have no experience in INDYCAR. So (I’ve) been always with a very open approach, trying to get as much information as I can, absorb everything and learn as much as possible.
“I have a great team of engineers, which gives me a lot of confidence. I think the work that we are doing together; it's very good and very enjoyable.”
In addition to Bourdais and his engineers, Gutierrez has also turned to retired winning Indy car driver and fellow Mexican Adrian Fernandez for advice.
“He's a good friend for many years in the past,” said Gutierrez. “I watched his racing as a fan. Then I watched his racing and got in contact with him when I became a racing driver.
“We've been sharing experiences since the beginning of my career. He has a lot of knowledge of INDYCAR, Champ Car and racing itself in many different categories.
“By the time there was this opportunity, I obviously contacted him. I asked for his opinion. He was very positive about it. So it was great to share something with a Mexican, a friend that I have that has a lot of experience so I can get up to speed as quick as possible.”