Tristan Vautier took responsibility for the brutal crash that ended Spirit of Daytona Racing’s hope for a good finish at Sebring, admitting his impatience led to a series of events that caused the shunt with less than two hours to go in the race.
Vautier, who put the No. 90 Cadillac DPi-V.R on pole with a new Sebring track record, started the race and led the opening 14 laps. Vautier, Matt McMurry and Eddie Cheever lll had overcome a drive-through penalty for contact that spun Juan Pablo Montoya’s Penske Acura in the early hours and appeared ready to challenge for the win.
Vautier took the reins from McMurry just before 9:00 p.m., and on cold tires on his out lap from pit lane, got into the marbles in Turn 17 and made hard contact with the tire wall with just 105 minutes remaining.
“It started from the beginning of the out lap,” Vautier explained. “I flat spotted a tire because I was too impatient trying to change a switch on the car. When I got to Turn 17, I locked up a bit. I didn’t feel as though I was as wide as I was, but when I realized my left side tires were in the marbles, I tried to get on the gas.
“But once you’re in the marbles, it’s like ice, and the wall came to me pretty quickly. I’m very sorry for the guys, because it was a big crash and it will take a lot of work to repair. But my hat is off to the entire team, they gave us an amazing car today. Our pace was good and the car was good throughout the entire race. I’m just sorry it ended like that.”
Team owner Troy Flis praised the strength of the team despite the “heartbreaker” of a finish.
“We’d just made our last driver change and had it scheduled to make two more stops and we could make it to the end,” Flis said. “I feel badly for Tristan, because he knew he had a good car. All the drivers did a great job – Tristan was great in qualifying, Matt did great saving fuel even though we all know how hard it is to tell drivers to slow down, and Eddie put in some great laps mid-race. It was a huge, deep effort from the entire team.
“I feel badly for the crew as well, because they did such a great job of putting their heads down, going out there and making it happen. We’ve had a tough start to the year, but I know that’s racing, where there are super highs and super lows. This team is strong and we’ll be back to fight another day.”
Said Cheever: “Everyone was performing so well – the team, the drivers, everything was good. But when you have just over an hour to go and you are pushing to the maximum, that can happen. It’s a bummer for the team because we really wanted to fight for a podium until the end.”