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 4, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
Newgarden praises IndyCar series, its competitors; notes that new Rule 9.3.8 has been misunderstood.
Aug 4, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT
MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno expands on one of IndyCar’s better weekends of late, from multiple aspects, at Mid-Ohio.
Aug 4, 2015, 11:47 AM EDT
Watch as a double digit number of Honda IndyCar drivers attempt to fit inside the new Honda Fit.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:43 AM EDT
There was way more to the Mid-Ohio weekend than just the on-track product itself. Here’s a quick roundup.
Aug 4, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT
With several race dates having already been announced, it’s time to play “piece it together” for the 2016 IndyCar schedule.
Aug 3, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
Quick recaps of the other two races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course weekend from PWC and MRTI.
NHRA: ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman earns 5th Funny Car win of 2015; Brown (TF), McGaha (PS), Krawiec (PSM) also win
Aug 3, 2015, 12:24 AM EDT
NHRA Funny Car driver “Fast Jack” Beckman may want to consider changing his nickname to “Faster Jack” because it doesn’t appear he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
Aug 2, 2015, 9:47 PM EDT
Sunday’s win fulfilled a lifelong dream for Ohio-native Graham Rahal.
Aug 2, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Montoyas 42-point lead over Rahal all but disappears in one race.
Aug 2, 2015, 5:56 PM EDT
Sage Karam in the crosshairs again after controversial Lap 66 spin at Mid-Ohio.
Aug 2, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT
Wilson earns first podium finish since Houston in 2013.
Aug 2, 2015, 4:02 PM EDT
Quick thinking from Rahal’s strategists allows the Ohio native to storm to his second win of the 2015 season and slice the gap to Montoya in the championship race.
Aug 2, 2015, 3:12 PM EDT
Castroneves led at halfway due to off-setting pit strategy.
Aug 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Alex Lynn has made an impression during his rookie GP2 season, but can he make the step up to F1 in 2016?
Aug 2, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
McLaren’s CEO feels the reasons behind limiting in-season testing offer a “false economy”.
Aug 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Watch live from Mid-Ohio ahead of the 14th round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Aug 2, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Latvala wins on home soil for the second time in the WRC with a record-breaking display.
Aug 2, 2015, 11:27 AM EDT
Big drama in second Indy Lights race of the weekend at Mid-Ohio.
Aug 2, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
What to watch for ahead of Round 14 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Aug 2, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT
Hunter-Reay finishes on top ahead of Helio Castroneves and Jack Hawksworth despite crashing his car.
- DiZinno: Mid-Ohio a dream weekend for Rahal, IndyCar, fans 0
- Dates for 2016 IndyCar schedule starting to come together 7
- NHRA: ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman earns 5th Funny Car win of 2015; Brown (TF), McGaha (PS), Krawiec (PSM) also win 5
- After dream-fulfilling day, Graham Rahal isn’t worried anymore 1
- Graham Rahal now trails Montoya by nine points in IndyCar standings 4
- Karam’s Mid-Ohio spin triggers frustration, skepticism from IndyCar paddock 13
- Rahal scores dream win on home soil in Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio 5