ST. PETERSBURG — Coming off of back-to-back championships in two IndyCar feeder series, Tristan Vautier is confident that his ability in the car will translate well as he embarks on his IndyCar rookie campaign.
But he has to adapt in a lot of ways, and not just on the track, where he makes his debut this weekend in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
"It's going to be a lot to learn in little time," the Frenchman and St. Petersburg resident says. "I don't think I could have taken in much more in such little time (in testing). You have to learn about pit stops, you have to learn how to save the tires. It's way more complicated than Indy Lights. The teams ask way more from you, both from the technical side and the PR side."
The adjustment on the track required a steep learning curve in preseason testing.
"Because there is less testing you have to try more changes to the car for one run," he said. "Instead of doing one tweak you're going to do three tweaks. It's way more to focus (on) than just going into the lap times, which was more the case in Indy Lights."
Vautier, 23, proved himself ready for this level with titles in the Star Mazda series (now known as Pro Mazda) in 2011 and the Indy Lights series, the highest stop on the Road to Indy ladder, in 2012 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
That team brought Vautier up to IndyCar this season to team with fellow French driver Simon Pagenaud, last season's IndyCar rookie of the year and a proven driver in open-wheel cars as well as sports cars. They got to know each other when Vautier first came to the United States to race in 2010, as Pagenaud helped with advice. Before that Vautier, a native of Corenc, just outside Grenoble in southeastern France, raced in European feeder series including two seasons in Formula Renault 2.0.
Vautier says he and Pagenaud communicate well, and not just because of their nationality.
"Obviously we cannot speak too much French," Vautier said. "Maybe pretty soon the team can speak French, all of them, a bit of work for us to teach them. No, communication is good, we get on really well. Hopefully soon I can get up to speed and push him, and we can push each other."
Another French IndyCar driver, fellow St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais, says he has seen good things out of Vautier.
"He's a very fast, up and coming driver," Bourdais said. "It's great to see three French being successful in open-wheel in the U.S. (Vautier) is a good kid."
Vautier's start on the Road to Indy ladder came with the Andersen Racing in Star Mazda in 2010. The team is based in Palmetto, which helped influence Vautier's decision to live in St. Petersburg.
"I never wanted to move, really," Vautier said, adding with a smile, "Miami, you have to speak Spanish, I don't want to learn Spanish.
"I like the relaxing aspect of the city. As a driver you have to arrive mentally ready to the races, and after a race you want to relax. When you go run or work out on the beach or aside the marina, it's a way different atmosphere. I really like that."