Tristan Vautier will start third in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama after a dramatic turn of events in qualifying that initially left the IZOD IndyCar Series rookie out of the Firestone Fast 6 and then gave him a last minute chance to fight for the Verizon P1 Award.
Vautier posted the fastest time of his group in Round 1 of the knockout style qualifying in the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, but narrowly missed transferring to the Firestone Fast 6.
“I was very upset with myself after the second round of qualifying because I made a mistake in one area of the track and I knew we were so close to transferring,” Vautier said.
As Vautier began to pack up his helmet bag to head back to his transporter, he happened to glance up at the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) timing stand and noticed that his name was in the Firestone Fast 6 group.
“Right before the Firestone Fast 6 started, I was looking at timing and scoring and I saw myself on there!” Vautier said. “I told my crew as quickly as I could and asked them to bring the car back to pit lane so I could get back out on track!”
The No. 55 car had already been rolled out of pit lane, and most of Vautier’s pit equipment had been packed up. With the 10-minute Firestone Fast 6 session already underway, the SPM crew made a mad scramble to retrieve Vautier’s car and get the car back out on the track.
“I have to give it to the guys,” Vautier said. “They brought the car back out last minute and I got ready after the Firestone Fast 6 had already started. It was a mix of emotions to be disappointed and then all of a sudden find out I had a chance to race in the final session.”
Vautier was back on the 2.38-mile road course with three minutes left in the session. He logged only two at-speed laps, one of which was good enough for third position on the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama starting grid.
“My engineer made good changes on the car from Round 2 and the tires were a bit more used, so it was a lot of fun honestly,” he said. “I had enough grip that I could push really hard and give it my all. I just really have to thank my crew for putting the car back together so quickly for the last part of qualifying.”
Vautier’s lap of 122.919 mph landed him on the inside of row two for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Ryan Hunter Reay won the Verizon P1 Award and Will Power will start second.
Simon Pagenaud, driving the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, barely missed transferring out of the first qualifying group.
“My car was good, we just barely missed it in qualifying,” Pagenaud said. “We’ll just keep digging a little deeper because we aren’t far off at all. I know we’ll have a good car for the race tomorrow.”
Pagenaud’s fastest qualifying lap of 123.139 mph put him in the 13th starting position, on the inside of the seventh row.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network beginning at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 7. For real-time updates from the pits of the No. 55 and 77 cars, follow @SPMindycar on Twitter.