Mar 20, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
Sebastian Saavedra enters 2014 in a bit of an odd position.
The Colombian is only 23, but 2014 will mark his fifth different IndyCar season, and third full one. In each season, he’s been with a different organization.
He made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2010 by accident – literally – after he crashed late on Bump Day. But enough other cars withdrew their times to see Saavedra’s time still eligible for the field of 33. His debut was also the first race for Bryan Herta Autosport in the series.
Later in 2010, he started the season finale for Conquest Racing, which helped propel him into a full-time seat for 2011. With limited funding available, Saavedra struggled but occasionally overachieved despite missing two end-of-season races.
In 2012, he made a decision mature beyond his years, to step back to Indy Lights and learn more. In an AFS/Andretti Autosport entry, Saavedra won several races and had poor luck. But he got the chance at three more IndyCar starts with the same program, and again, did enough to merit some consideration for 2013.
So 2013 arrived and Saavedra entered the lair of Dragon Racing, but under controversial circumstances as an 11th hour replacement for Katherine Legge in the TrueCar-backed Chevrolet. Yet out of the gate, Saavedra turned in some sterling qualifying performances that left teammate Sebastien Bourdais scratching his head. Bourdais’ program improved in the second half of the year while Saavedra’s went the opposite direction entirely, in part due to crew changes.
You could argue for 2014, as Saavedra enters the AFS-backed KV Racing second seat – ironically as Bourdais’ teammate again – that he’s in exactly the same boat as the second KV driver last year, Simona de Silvestro (and yes, the names are confusingly similar).
Like de Silvestro, Saavedra has not had a full-season, top-flight opportunity and should improve from what was a trying previous season. Yet the field is so deep that given the lateness of this program coming together, it could take a few races for driver-and-team to hit their stride.
As it is, Saavedra’s relationship with Gary Peterson, through two Andretti stints and now for KV, has been the guiding force of his career.
“When I came from Europe in 2009, Gary was pretty much like my second dad, having my first dad present here of course,” Saavedra explained during IndyCar media day in Orlando.
“We built a very strong relationship. He took me below his wing to develop me inside his driving development program. We come through since then.”
The step down to Indy Lights was something Saavedra had to do to stay in the frame. In recent years, he’s been the only example of a driver willing to make that decision rather than explore other series.
“It was that or doing nothing at all,” he admitted. “But it came with the opportunity to make ourselves stronger with AFS and Gary Peterson, trying not only to prepare, but keep learning. At that time, being 20 years old, I had the opportunity to take chances, and still can.
“Now looking back, this is a reality because of those days.”
The KV/AFS partnership came together quickly, but KV team co-owner Jimmy Vasser has said this winter it is important to maintain teammate continuity. Saavedra learned from Bourdais last year, although both are optimistic they can forge their own paths this year to push the team forward.
“I’m actually being forced to,” Saavedra joked about working with Bourdais.
“No, we built a really great relationship last year. I think I respect Bourdais a lot and he respects me. I think that’s the key to building a great partnership with your teammate.
“I think we were able to understand each other and see development-wise that we needed each other to move forward. So I think it makes it a lot easier to have somebody by your side. As Jimmy said, you broke those barriers of who the heck is by my side. Definitely it’s a plus to have him on my side, something that is already natural.”
The “move forward” that both Saavedra and KV need to target in 2014 is an improved qualifying effort. Saavedra was tied for the worst qualifying average in the field in 2013 – 17.7 – with nary a Firestone Fast Six appearance and no starts better than 18th in the final 10 races.
The flashes of speed in the first half of nine races included five starts of 11th or better, with a best of sixth at Milwaukee.
He also only has two career top-10 finishes from 38 career starts. Those numbers can only improve if the qualifying does.
Road and street course qualifying was an area KV struggled in 2013. Both de Silvestro and Tony Kanaan had occasional highlights, but combined for only three Fast Six appearances between them.
Because Saavedra’s 2013 was such a struggle, he does enter 2014 from a position of strength knowing that he has nowhere to go but up. And Vasser expects his pair of “Sebs” to do just that.
“Jimmy sees Bourdais with a lot of respect, of course. He saw me as the youngster that pretty much still has no limits,” Saavedra said. “He’s demanding a lot, of course. But that’s something we’re very welcome to.”
Aug 21, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, joined NASCAR America on Thursday to talk about the different feeling that Bristol Motor Speedway has and goes over the strategy his team has for the race.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:33 PM EDT
Mazda Road to Indy titles will be decided in Sonoma this weekend.
Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson pace NNS practices; Milka Duno seeks to become first Latina to qualify for a NASCAR event
Aug 21, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson topped Thursday afternoon’s pair of Nationwide Series practice sessions at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT
After the popularity of the team’s drivers, the next most popular thing around Team Penske is The Penske Files, especially editions that contain bloopers. Check out the latest edition of TPF bloopers!
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 6:30 p.m. ET — Steve Letarte, Tennessee racing history, Truck race highlights
Aug 21, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, which airs LIVE at 6:30 pm ET, will cover a lot of ground, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief (and future NASCAR on NBC analyst) Steve Letarte, breaking down and the history of Bristol Motor Speedway and lots more.
Aug 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Russian Grand Prix set to be held in Sochi in six weeks’ time after the track is given a license.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Catch this sneak preview of Off The Grid: Budapest ahead of tomorrow’s premiere.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
As impressive as many of F1’s new builds are, we must remember the likes of Spa and Monza when looking to the future of the sport.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Ferrari’s lead driver has high hopes for the second half of the season.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
The MST writing team makes its predictions ahead of this weekend’s race at Spa.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Hard as it may seem to believe, Brad Keselowski had never won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in his career. That was before Thursday’s UNOH 200 at Bristol, where Keselowski dominated en route to the checkered flag.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT
Finnish driver yet to be confirmed at Williams for 2015, but sees no reason to look elsewhere for a seat.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
All your TV times for F1, IndyCar, Red Bull Global Rallycross and more for this weekend’s motorsports action across NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
Chilton benched whilst his contractual issues are resolved, allowing Rossi to become the first American since Scott Speed in 2007 to race in a grand prix.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT
The rescheduled UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway is underway Thursday morning.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Three-time Le Mans winner to make his F1 debut with Caterham this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Sauber driver is open to the idea of a 17-year-old racing in F1, and hopes to be on the grid with him next season.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Compared to F1 hopefuls and/or retreads, seeing a relative outsider in Andre Lotterer make his debut this weekend is a welcome change of pace.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
After a three-week summer break, what better way to welcome Formula 1 back than with the Belgian Grand Prix?
Aug 20, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Wednesday’s UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway has been postponed due to heavy rain and lightning. The race has been rescheduled to 10 am ET on Thursday morning, weather permitting.
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