The background: The 23-year-old won in his debut in Star Mazda in 2010 and Firestone Indy Lights in 2012 on the scenic streets of St. Petersburg. On March 24, Vautier will make his initial IZOD IndyCar Series start on the 1.8-mile circuit.
Vautier, who has been the beneficiary of Mazda Road to Indy scholarships by winning the Star Mazda title in 2011 and the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights championship, joins 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud (driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car) to form an all-French team.
Vautier, a St. Petersburg, Fla., resident, earned four victories among 10 top-five finishes in 12 races last year in the No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. From the final two Star Mazda events in 2010 through the Firestone Indy Lights race at Iowa Speedway last June, Vautier recorded 20 consecutive top-five finishes.
"It's a big first step and I'll try to learn as quickly as I can because there will be many new things this year," said Vautier, who will have veteran Allen McDonald as his engineer with the Honda-powered car that is scheduled to make its on-track debut Feb. 20 at Sebring International Raceway. "I'm looking forward to working with Simon and Allen. They have so much experience. The team has great resources, and it's great to step up with the same team. I just hope Sam will be able to handle two Frenchmen. One in IndyCar and one in Indy Lights last year was a lot, but now two on the same team will be tough."
Vautier raised eyebrows in mid-December on a test day at Sebring International Raceway, during which he was second-quick to Team Penske's Will Power. Pagenaud had set up the car the previous day on the short course.
"(Moving to the IZOD IndyCar Series) is something I have to look at as an opportunity and not an accomplishment because I have to make the most of it," Vautier said. "When I came to the U.S. three years ago, it was my aim to win Star Mazda and then win the Indy Lights class and then be in (the IZOD) IndyCar Series. I can't say how grateful I am to everybody who made it happen and how blessed I am."