Former IndyCar Rookie of the Year Tristan Vautier is eager to continue with Dale Coyne Racing in 2016, after some star performances last season.
The French ace had talks with Dale Coyne at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this year, and told Motorsport.com: “I think the intention is still for us to get back together.
“We had a great connection, great chemistry at the team, straight away from when I qualified for them at Indianapolis. And so I think Dale would like that to continue.”
Vautier says he expects to know “really soon” whether he has the ride, as he says Coyne will run two cars at the open test in Phoenix, Feb. 26-27.
Coyne announced Conor Daly as one of his drivers as long ago as Dec. 11 and Vautier believes he and Daly working together could boost DCR up the grid.
“I think Conor and I would be a very strong lineup, but I think the team would make progress also because Dale and his staff have been working so hard over the winter," he said.
“The two crews have been full-time in the shop, and there has been a lot of preparation based on what was learned last year. It was [race engineer] Michael Cannon’s second year with the team last year, and I think the fact that Mike is continuing for 2016 will also be very helpful.
“So having two good drivers will really extract that potential that is building. There’s a lot more to come from that team – that’s really what I believe, and that’s why I really want to be there this season.”
Encouraged by 2015 showings
Vautier, who won the 2011 Pro Mazda championship (then called Star Mazda) and 2012 Indy Lights title said he was very encouraged by the 11 races in which he competed for Coyne last year.
He observed: “Obviously with the season so intense and packed, we never got a chance to test, so each weekend we had a lot of work to go through. And even despite that, we had some great results. Fourth at Detroit and sixth at Mid-Ohio were good but at Iowa as well. The way the strategy played out with the yellows, it went against us, but even though that is a very tough track, we made good progress with the setups, the car was strong and we finished 12th.
“Then after the season was over, we did the test at Road America, the first time we had been able to try some things with setups. No real time limits. And the improvements we made that day was pretty unbelievable. Very, very good pace. So I think that pushed everyone toward wanting continuity this year.”
Impressed by Rolex 24
Vautier said he was satisfied with the performance of Stevenson Motorsports at Daytona this year, where he raced in the GT Daytona class in the new Audi R8 LMS GT3, and shared with Kenny Habul, Dion von Moltke and Boris Said.
He said: “It was a great experience in the Audi. The new R8 is really good to drive, and I think has enormous potential.
“There was also good chemistry between us drivers, and everyone was very consistent – very on the pace but safe and smart, which is what you need throughout that race.
Vautier, who finished third in the Prototype Challenge class in 2015, continued: “Unfortunately for some reason, we lost some horsepower not too long after the start of the race, we don’t know why. We were losing an enormous amount of time in a straight line, so all we could do was survive and stay out of trouble at the end. But we did that and finished eighth in class.
“We had gone two laps down because the car wouldn’t start, so it took us a while to get back on the lead lap. In the end, it was frustrating, because without losing horsepower, I think we would have been in the top five. But it is what it is.”
Vautier, who is graded “Gold” under the FIA’s 2016 ranking system, is ineligible to race for Stevenson at Sebring as he would need to be Silver standard, but said: "it was good for me to get more experience in sports cars.”
Pleased for Mazda
Vautier admitted he was impressed with the pace of the Mazda Prototype at Daytona, which he had campaigned with sluggish and unreliable diesel power over the previous two seasons.
With Mazda’s gasoline-powered two-liter inline-4 turbocharged MT unit, the car has gained a new lease of life. Although the #70 machine expired as early as lap 12, Jonathan Bomarito, Spencer Pigot and Tristan Nunez had the #55 car fighting in the top five and on the lead lap until it too expired.
“Yeah, that was good!” said Vautier. “Honestly, I was happy for them – I have a lot of friends still in that team.
“And that chassis is really good so I think they will do very well this year. On smooth tracks like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and other road courses, they will be very fast.”