FORT WORTH, Texas – The speed arrested Tristan Vautier’s attention quickly on the 1.5-mile, high-banked Texas Motor Speedway oval. Sure, he competed on ovals in Firestone Indy Lights last season, winning at Milwaukee and garnering four top-five finishes in an equal number of races.
His first session on a superspeedway in an IZOD IndyCar Series car, though, was “eye opening.”
“Everything happens to you faster, but I think it feels that way when it’s your first time in a new car on a new track until your brain gets used to it,” said Vautier, who drove the Honda-powered No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car on March 27.
Vautier, who made his IZOD IndyCar Series debut last weekend at St. Petersburg, was joined by A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske car and Carlos Munoz in Marco Andretti’s car for their rookie oval orientation. The session was a prelude to the formal Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 11.
All three will be entered in the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 26, and at least Vautier will compete in the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8 (prime time on ABC).
Allmendinger, who will make his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 7 at Barber Motorsports Park, tested an IZOD IndyCar Series car for the third time in the past six weeks.
“Just like any test right now in an IndyCar now for me, it’s about getting comfortable,” he said. “It all feels like I’m a fish out of water, trying to figure out how to get around. People assume back when I raced Champ Cars I did a lot of ovals, but I really only did Milwaukee so this is brand new for me.
“It’s a lot different (from a stock car to drive around TMS). A little track knowledge (helps), and all these mile-and-a-half tracks a little different – they have their own character – so it’s good to know but it’s still different. Obviously, me being here it’s about going to Indy and being comfortable in an IndyCar around a fast racetrack like this. There’s a lot of work to do yet.”
Six other IZOD IndyCar Series drivers (Ed Carpenter, Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud and James Jakes) were on the track in the afternoon through early evening in blustery conditions.
“It’s good to be back on a speedway," said Sato, who kicked off the season with a front-row start at St. Pete in the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing. "It feels really fast when you jump in the car for the first time. It got comfortable quite quickly so we moved on to the test program.
"Temperature-wise track conditions were good but there was so much gusty wind that it made the car unpredictable – it felt so different from one side of the track to the other. It was a good exercise to try to achieve stability of the car because in conditions like today you really need a stable car."
Vautier made mental notes from the multiple laps, working with cockpit controls, and by watching other drivers on the track.
“There’s lots of grip and you can really feel the compression in the corners, and with the wind it was pretty tricky,” he said. “The car can react differently from lap to lap by the way it moves around, so that was helpful in general. It might be even trickier in June when we come back because it will be significantly warmer.
“The challenge coming back here will be all the things you have to do with other people on the track. Everything will be happen very fast on this big oval.”
Vautier qualified sixth in his maiden race but was relegated to 21st because of a mechanical issue midway through the 110 laps on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.
“It was an incredible first weekend that everyone on the team should be proud of what we accomplished,” said Vautier, the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion. “We made the most of what we could control and it was unfortunate we couldn’t keep it going because of a (exhaust) part that broke.
“It would have been good to get a (top five) result as a reward for the hard work of the whole team, but for the first weekend we can’t complain too much that we didn’t get the result we wanted. Now it’s on to Barber.”