“C’est la Vie” was all Schmidt Peterson Motorsports(SPM) rookie Tristan Vautier could say when he climbed out of his race car prior to the conclusion of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after running as high as fourth before his car suffered an exhaust system failure.
Vautier’s teammate Simon Pagenaud endured a similar fate in the first race of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season when the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car pulled into the pits on lap 26 with exhaust system issues as well.
After starting sixth, Vautier quickly proved that rookie jitters would not get the best of him in his IZOD IndyCar Series debut. He settled into a rhythm and kept the nose of the No. 55 Florida Lottery c/w Schmidt Peterson Dallara/Honda/Firestone car clean through the crowded city streets.
Vautier’s first career pit stop also went off without a hitch, which the 23-year-old St. Petersburg, Fla., resident had admitted to being nervous about prior to the green flag.
Navigating through traffic, Vautier passed James Jakes and Simona de Silvestro to find himself in fourth position chasing down pole winner Will Power.
The tide turned for Vautier on lap 69 when he pulled the No. 55 car into the pits for an unscheduled stop. His crew confirmed an exhaust system failure and he officially retired from the race in the 21st position.
“It’s very frustrating, but that is part of racing,” Vautier said. “We had a great run today. My car was fantastic and I have to thank the team for that.”
After Saturday’s qualifying session, where Vautier reached the Firestone Fast Six, he expressed that he would need to focus very closely on managing the Firestone tires during the 110-lap race, something he did not encounter during his 2012 championship winning season in Firestone Indy Lights.
“It was amazing because I felt like the car wasn’t even using the tires,” Vautier said. “We could have kept those tires on for an hour and still run fast times.”
Despite the abrupt end, Vautier found many positives to take away from his first IZOD IndyCar Series race in front of his adopted hometown crowd.
“It was amazing running through the streets of St. Petersburg today and I really wanted to take it further, but it was out of our control,” he said. “I had so much fun while I was out there and I’m very happy with my first race weekend in IndyCar, even though we couldn’t convert it into a result.”
From the 19th starting position Simon Pagenaud, driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP/Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, climbed as high as 16th in the opening 20 laps.
After starting on the Firestone Black tires, Pagenaud pitted on Lap 14 for Firestone Red tires and fuel. Shortly after the pit stop, Pagenaud radioed the team and reported having issues with the No. 77 car.
He pitted for the Schmidt Hamilton team to inspect his car, and they determined the No. 77 racing machine was struggling with exhaust system issues. Pagenaud was forced to retire from the season-opening race after 26 laps in 24th position.
“I’m disappointed with what happened because it was a nightmare weekend for the HP crew,” Pagenaud said. “The car felt pretty good for me in the race, but we had a broken exhaust. There was no point in continuing on and damaging our engine and shooting ourselves in the foot for the next race in Barber.”
Retiring early from an IZOD IndyCar Series race was a new experience for Pagenaud who finished all but seven laps in the 2012 season.
“Unfortunately, this was the first IndyCar race that I haven’t finished,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a shame but we’re going to go to work and come back with a package to run with the front guys in Barber.”
James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport claimed his first career IZOD IndyCar Series win at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was joined on the podium by Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti. Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon rounded out the top-five. Four caution flags for a total of 29 laps slowed the race.
Pagenaud and Vautier will return to IZOD IndyCar Series action on April 7, for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. For the latest updates from the No. 77 and No. 55 cars, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.