Long Pond, PA – Prior to 2017, I don’t think the thought ever crossed Esteban Gutierriez’ mind that he’d ever be racing on a high speed oval. Heck, up until May, I don’t think the Mexican driver really ever put much thought into it. He said at Belle Isle in June that he thought the drivers at Indy this past year were “crazy” as it was a wildly entertaining race for him to watch.
Well, now he’s going to have a front row seat for the madness this weekend, on a similar 2.5-mile track at the Pocono Raceway.
Gutierrez, was a former Formula One driver who spent his entire 20+ year racing career focusing on a path to F1. But, when the funding and results dried up, this Verizon IndyCar Series opportunity came around. He raced the doubleheader at Detroit, but the series said he couldn’t race at Texas the weekend after because he had no oval experience and he needed to test first.
He did so later in the month at Iowa and made his debut on the 7/8-mile bullring in July. He would finish 13th. But, 7/8-miles at Iowa is tiny compared to 2.5-miles in Pocono. Yes, Iowa is very physically challenging, but Pocono also pulls a ton of g-forces, three times a lap even, for 500-miles. Iowa was 300 miles in length.
Pocono is an extra 200-miles on top of that.
Plus, we’ve seen some wild racing at Pocono, as the track is wide enough on the front stretch to go 5-6 or even 7-8 wide. The slingshot, crazy last minute passes into the turns will be ramped up again this weekend. How will Gutierrez handle that?
“I really don’t know what to expect heading into the Pocono race weekend,” Gutierrez admitted. “It’s my first superspeedway, and it’s different from a short oval, so it will once again be a new experience for me. The car will be different as will the approach and that will make my experience a little bit more interesting than the race weekends I’ve been used to now. I’m very much looking forward to learning something new and to experience the superspeedway.”
So, how do you prepare for a track like this, one that he’s never been to.
“Watching videos is very important and very helpful, but also the information that is in the pre-event report from my engineers is also very helpful,” Gutierrez said. “For me, that’s one of the best ways to prepare. To get all the information that I can from previous experiences, previous years, and that will obviously help me to figure out more quickly what direction we need to take with the car. Because this will be a new speedway for me, everything will be about learning. We need to be very effective in getting a good feeling and a good understanding of the car in practice to get ready for qualifying and then the race.”
Honestly, he’s going to have a good car to finish well if he wants to. Dale Coyne Racing has produced some great superspeedway cars this year. Ed Jones finished third at Indy, and this very same car that Gutierrez is driving saw Sebastien Bourdais be a pole contender on qualifying weekend, being quickest on Fast Friday and had the top speed in Saturday’s qualifying day before he crashed after setting a lap over a full mph quicker than second place at the time. James Davison jumped into that car after a two year break from IndyCar to replace Bourdais, started last, and charged through the field to the lead in the closing stages. If not for being in a late race crash, he was destined for a top five finish.
Then at Texas, Tristian Vautier in this very same car qualified fifth and ran up front. He led laps too, as Jones was back up front again before both being involved in a crash mid race. It was shaping up to be another dual top 10 or even dual top five for the DCR cars again on a superspeedway.
As you can see, this No. 18 Honda will have the speed in it to contend. Will DCR let him loose or play it conservative with the setups and just get through the weekend?
If they let him loose, don’t be surprised to see Gutierrez play it safe for a while and let others screw up, then look up and see him in the top 10 in the end.