Star Mazda champ Vautier looks to fit in After the shine of being a series champion starts to fade, reality sets in. Being awarded the scholarship up to the next rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder means the winner must settle into a new car, in a new series and compete against veteran drivers. It's like graduating from high school, only to be a freshman all over again in college.
Looking to move quickly past that transition stage is 2011 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear champion Tristan Vautier.
Vautier got to spend some time in a Firestone Indy Lights car on Oct. 28-29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and exceeded expectations when he set the fastest lap of the two-day session by more than a half-second while driving for Andretti Autosport.
Vautier tested a Firestone Indy Lights car a year ago, but acknowledged he needed a refresher.
"The way to drive it is pretty different (from a Star Mazda car)," Vautier said. "You have to be patient in the corner and wait on the throttle because if you go too early, you just get wheel spin, and it's not even better than going later and with more power all at once. It's pretty different, but I quite like it. I need to keep working and keep improving."
The 22-year-old from Corenc, France, spent two years in Star Mazda. In 2010, he won two races, finished on podium three times, had five top-five finishes, 10 top-10s and finished fifth in the championship.
This past season, he had four wins and six podiums with JDC Motorsports, but more importantly, he never finished outside the top five.
"I was trying to go for the title. It was my second year in the series and there was this big prize from Mazda and INDYCAR to win," Vautier said. "But when I was in the car, I was not really thinking about it. I was just trying to take it step by step, session after session and race by race.
"If you think too much about the big objective, you can lose focus on the present, so I really tried to do my best session for session instead of thinking too much about it."
Though he is not in a hurry to race through Firestone Indy Lights, Vautier isn't counting himself out of the championship mix. Looking at trends over the last couple of seasons, the odds are in his favor -- the past two championships have been won by drivers in their first year of the series.
For the immediate future, he is focused on learning as much as possible.
"You always want to be as quick as you can as soon as possible, but I cannot say that I am going into Indy Lights for the title right now," he said. "I have a lot of work to do. I have to first pick my team, and then I have so much to learn that it's going to be a matter of how quick I manage to learn. I know that there's tons of work ahead, so I cannot say I really am going for the title. I'm just going in the car to do the best job I can and we'll see. If I do a good job, I should win."