Together with Felix Rosenqvist, Tristan Vautier will form one of the more interesting driver lineups in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup this year, with the 2012 Indy Lights champion excited at the prospects of fighting for a championship.
Following several outings in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 run by AKKA ASP in the Blancpain Endurance Series, Vautier will pilot one of three Mercedes-AMG GT3s entered by the French squad in the Sprint Cup this season.
“We want to stay humble. There’s a lot of competition. We’re both still new to the GT world and it’s a championship of specialists,” Vautier told Sportscar365.
“It’s going to be very competitive with 40 cars at Misano, of which 30 are entered in the Pro Cup.
“For me as a driver, what really motivates me is not really the car I drive, it’s driving against the best drivers and the best teams. It has to be a constant challenge.
“No matter where I race I’m happy as long as the competition is the best possible, so I really want to put a lot of focus on Blancpain GT.”
Even though competition will be tough, the 26-year-old feels he’s in the right environment to further develop his skills as a GT driver.
“We have a good lineup, an amazing team behind us and Mercedes has done a great job with the new car,” Vautier said.
“It’s hard to say where we’ll end up; you always want to win, but fighting in the top-five consistently is already going to be a big challenge and would be good.
“For us it’s more about really focusing on ourselves as new GT drivers, developing ourselves and trying to help the team as well with the new car.”
Vautier also admitted that the arrival of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 made the transition from single seaters to GT less drastic.
“For me personally it’s a bit easier than the Ferrari last year because the extra downforce,” he said. “There’s also a lot of torque in the engine, so the drivability is also different.”
The first tests with the new car and his new teammate have gone well, as Vautier feels he and Rosenqvist form a complementary duo.
“Felix and I both have similar driving styles. It’s good because we can really push each other and learn from each other,” he said.
“At Misano we both felt very good in the car. Maybe the adaptation will come more during the race weekends with execution and everything, but it’s always an advantage to be young and hungry.”
Vautier and Rosenqvist are somewhat in the same place in their careers, looking at other options besides open wheel racing, even though they are widely regarded as talents in their respective scenes.
In a way they are both symptomatic, as many young drivers are making the switch to GTs ever earlier in their careers, considering it as a worthy career path from the beginning.
“Obviously, people go to where the opportunities are,” Vautier said. “At the moment that’s in GT racing, where you have a shot at becoming a professional or factory driver.
“For me, I made the move to the U.S. because of the Mazda Road to Indy. I knew that as a driver without big support behind me, my only shot was to win those scholarships.
“As of today, if I was a young open wheel driver, GT racing would be for sure something I would consider, because there are people who manage to get careers starting young in GT and they get noticed by manufacturers.”
Following a partial IndyCar campaign last year, Vautier still has some discussions going for some one-offs in the U.S. this season, which shouldn’t interfere, as there are no date clashes between both series.
“I still have a lot of love for IndyCar and open wheel racing, but I realize the opportunity here in sports cars and the level in the Blancpain GT Series,” he added.
The Frenchman might also be part of a limited Blancpain Endurance Pro Cup program with AKKA ASP, which would consist of the Paul Ricard six-hour race and Total 24 Hours of Spa.