Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Six Quick Questions With Tristan Vautier

Today's guest won the Star Mazda Series Championship in 2011, and as the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship recipient for that class, will be contesting this season in Firestone Indy Lights in the #77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. Tristan Vautier won 4 races races and 4 poles against stout competition in his sophomore Star Mazda season, and he'll look to continue his winning ways just a step away from the IZOD IndyCar Series. The 22 year-old French racer found time to be our next subject for Six Quick Questions:

Tristan, as the Star Mazda Series champion, you were able to move up to Firestone Indy Lights this season. How much a part did the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship format play in your move, and what's your overall feel for how the scholarship program is working?

TV: The Mazda Road to Indy played a huge role in helping me to step up to Firestone Indy Lights this season, especially in a first-class team like Sam Schmidt Motorsports. I think the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship program is just great, it goes from the roots of US racing to the doors of IndyCar, and with this program, a driver who doesn't have the funding but clearly has everything it takes to make it, can manage and accomplish his goal to race in IndyCar. This program really plays a big part in making racing in USA so attractive for upcoming drivers.

What are your expectations with Sam Schmidt Motorsports this season? You're going to be with a team that been the class of Lights in recent years.

TV: I'm on the best team, and this being told I know that if I get the job done I'll be up front. From there, my only focus is about being on top of my game every weekend and work hard to learn things quickly since I'm a rookie.
Vautier At MRTI Test
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

Coming from your background in Euro series such as F2 and Formula Renault 2.0, what are the biggest transition you've had to make to racing in America?

TV: I'd say the different types of tracks we race on here in US. In Europe the schedule is made of 90% if not 100% of regular road courses. Here it's mixed between road courses, street courses and ovals. It requires us to be fast on every type of track as a driver, and to develop the car for each type of circuit as a whole team, which is very interesting.

Speaking of transitions, as a driver, what are the biggest adjustments you have to make in driving a Star Mazda car versus a Lights car?

TV: The Lights car is really different from a Star Mazda. It's bigger and more powerful, you can brake harder, and you have to be patient in the corner since it's harder to apply full power. The bigger wings also allow you to rely more on the downforce in faster turns. I may be able to say more after I do some more testing in the car!

Last year's Star Mazda Series championship fight seemed to pit some really promising drivers against one another? Which drivers would you say were your toughest competitors, and which ones should we keep an eye out for in the future?

TV: Depending on the different types of track we've been on, I've had tough competition from a few different drivers entered in the championship. Sage [Karam] with Andretti Autosport was very strong on the ovals and the Pelfrey guys, Connor [De Phillippi] and Nick [Andries], have been our closest competitors on the street courses.

If you could change or improve one thing about the current Mazda Road to Indy program, what would it be?

TV: I don't think I could find anything to change about a ladder system that allows every champion to move up to the next step of the ladder, starting in karting. I think we drivers all need to respect the job Mazda and INDYCAR have done pulling this ladder together.

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