SONOMA, Ca. – Tristan Vautier and Rodolfo Gonzalez came together to form the Dale Coyne Racing driver partnership for the final time in the 2015 season in for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Neither driver had turned laps on the 2.385-mile natural terrain road circuit with the current aero kits and a new Firestone tire compound that made consistently fast times difficult.
Rodolfo Gonzalez got up to speed fairly quickly on Friday during the lengthy, 3.5 hour test session, but it was not until race morning that he felt he had a top ten car. The flowing, high speed nature of the Sonoma Raceway track was to his liking, but in qualifying he had the poor luck of being behind Jack Hawksworth when he lost an engine. This caused Gonzalez to slip in the oil on his fast lap. Team data confirmed he was on a quick enough lap to transfer into the top 12, but the slippery conditions in the final corner resulted in him running wide and losing his fastest time. This gave him a 24th starting position.
Morning warm up was particularly encouraging for Gonzalez as he noted how great the car drove after the 30 minute session. The team knew that passing on track is very difficult at Sonoma and had a strong strategy in mind from the drop of the green flag.
Gonzalez drove a mistake free race and had worked his way up to the middle of the pack after only 25 laps. A timely yellow just after his last pit stop put him in the top 12 for the final stint of the race. Despite battling with series veterans Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya, Gonzalez kept cool and moved up to ninth in the closing laps. This finish gives Gonzalez his career best Verizon IndyCar Series finish in his sixth start.
“I am really happy with the result. I think we got absolutely everything out of the car and the team today,” said Gonzalez. “I want to give a big thanks to the team and to Dale Coyne Racing. They have made me feel at home all season and helped me adapt and learn as much as possible about the series. A special thanks goes out to Dale (Coyne) because he is a dream maker and he made my dream of being an IndyCar driver come true.”
The weekend was particularly important for the Coyne team because the No. 18 entry was just 13 points behind the No. 4 entry in the fight for the top 22 entrant points position and the lucrative Leaders Circle program. “We knew coming in we had to beat Coletti by 7 spots, and Rodolfo did a great job beating him by 8 spots and 3 points to keep us in the top 22 for 2016,” said Team Owner Dale Coyne.
Tristan Vautier made his second Verizon IndyCar Series start this weekend having previously raced in the 2013 season. Finding competitive pace took some time on Friday when he nearly dipped into the 1:17 second times with the rest of the field. Vautier was unable to translate this into faster times on the softer tires during qualifying and started the race 23rd.
Vautier was not as lucky as his teammate as contact around the halfway point of the race knocked the right rear out of alignment. His pace was not competitive after that and he was forced to make several extra pit stops in order to make sure the car would be safe to finish the race. Vautier was able to hang in there and finish in three laps down in 23rd position.
The Dale Coyne Racing team will have just a short time to recover from a grueling 2015 Verizon IndyCar Season before turning the page and beginning to prepare for next season. Testing will begin this fall in preparation for a return to historic Road America and to help with Honda HPD aero kit changes. The 2016 season schedule will be announced in the coming weeks at which time teams can begin to outline their complete plans for next year. Fans can follow along with all off season news at http://www.dalecoyneracing.com and across the many social media outlets.