Vautier claims another Mazda Road to Indy scholarship
With his racing career at a crossroads in Europe, Tristan Vautier saw opportunity in America in 2010.
INDYCAR announced that it was starting a driver development ladder which would provide a defined path from karting to the highest level of the sport - the IZOD IndyCar Series. Vautier jumped at the chance.
"I came over to the USA because of the Mazda Road to Indy," Vautier said after becoming the second Frenchman to win the Firestone Indy Lights title in three years. "I was struggling getting up the ladder in Europe and I knew that if I was coming over here and was able to win the Star Mazda championship I would be able to get into the bigger cars. That was the goal."
For Vautier, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Aug. 22, the Firestone Indy Lights title is his second consecutive championships - joining the Star Mazda title he won with JDC Motorsports in 2011.
He accomplished the feat this season against a stout lineup of competitors by accumulating four victories, 10 total top-five finishes and five Sunoco Pole Awards.
"It was a hell of a season," Vautier said. "It was hard work out there. It was not the kind of season where you take the lead at the start of the year and then manage it.
"I'm very thankful to my team, Sam Schmidt Motorsports. They did a heck of a job all year. Always gave me a great car, but they were as well very good at teaching me to get up to speed with this car, and I cannot be thankful enough to them."
Up next is likely graduation to the IZOD IndyCar Series where Vautier has earned a scholarship of up to $ 1 million to take to the next level.
"I cannot be thankful enough to Mazda for what they do for young drivers. Obviously, you have to earn it. You have to win championships. But it really rewards the winners. (Teams) don't pick you up because they like you; they pick you up because you earned it. You have to win to get into this scholarship system so I'm really thankful to that.
"Hopefully next year we'll be able to make the other step. It's going to be a tough one, but we're going to work hard to try to make it happen."