NEWTON, Iowa – Esteban Gutierrez enjoyed his first experience racing on an oval. The Dale Coyne Racing driver caught the attention of others in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock as well.
Gutierrez finished a career-best 13th Sunday after a trouble-free Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway, but the 25-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, ran as high as second in the race and was in the top 10 for most of the second half of the 300-lap event.
“It was fun,” said Gutierrez, competing in his fourth race for Dale Coyne Racing as a replacement for the injured Sebastien Bourdais. “I was enjoying the car, using the tools, (had) good communication with the team, a very good sponsor I have, so the level of confidence is important.”
Gutierrez ran near the back of the pack for the first 125 laps as he became accustomed to working in traffic on the 0.894-mile oval. The ex-Formula One competitor admitted that the opening stint of the race was difficult in the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda.
“I was not quick enough in the first quarter,” he said. “Being my first time out there with all the cars around, fighting, it took me a few laps to get comfortable.”
Gutierrez worked his way to 14th by the halfway mark and made his first appearance in the top 10 on Lap 189. By running longer than most, he climbed from 10th place on Lap 253 all the way to second five laps later as other drivers made their final pit stop for fuel and tires. Gutierrez made his last stop on Lap 259 and dropped to 18th place, but he made up five positions over the last 40 laps.
The 13th-place effort is the best for Gutierrez in his short Verizon IndyCar Series career,
“It was a very nice experience,” he said. “Being the first time (on an oval), I didn’t know what to expect.
“I was using the tools in the car to try to handle in traffic, which is the trickiest part. I also want to thank all of my competitors because they were very kind to me. It was fair racing, good racing. I really enjoyed it out there, so I want to thank them a lot.”
The 2010 GP3 champion said the most difficult part of the race was running in traffic, but feels his oval race craft will come to him in due time.
“It was not easy because once you get really close (to a car in front), you have a completely different car,” he said. “You need to anticipate a lot and for that you need a lot of experience. Obviously, every time with more and more experience, I will anticipate it a lot better.”
With six races remaining on the calendar, including two ovals – Pocono Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park – Gutierrez is focused on building on what he has learned.
“I think most important is to be solid, be consistent and that’s what my target it right now,” Gutierrez said. "Finish all the races, being consistent and understanding the car because it is very different from what I’m used to.
“Obviously with the level of understanding, I will be able to give better feedback to my team, and I think altogether it will be a better package.”
Team owner Dale Coyne was pleased with his driver’s progress from start to finish.
“He was out there mixing it up with (Scott) Dixon and those guys,” Coyne said. “I was very proud of him. The race was like four quarters to me. Each quarter he got better, better and better. From the first pit stop to the next stint, he just kept getting better.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to a temporary street course this week at the Honda Indy Toronto. The race airs live at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore airing at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.