Monday, September 10, 2012

Saavedra Talks Fontana, 2013, And The Big Decision

With Championship Week here, all eyes are on Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay as they prepare to battle for the IndyCar title at the MAVTV 500. For his part, Hunter-Reay will also have a little bit extra assistance in his corner. Sebastian Saavedra will once more pilot the #17 AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport machine as his teammate.

This will be the third 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series start for the young Colombian driver, who took an assessing step back to a full-time role in Firestone Indy Lights in addition to his partial IndyCar schedule. Although he was busy with testing at Fontana last week in preparation for his team's big weekend, he took a few minutes to discuss his role with the team, what to expect at the MAVTV 500, his development as a driver, and even his 2013 plans.

Seb, thanks for your time. You've got to be excited. So how long has this deal to race Fontana been in place?

SS: Well, this is just a really exciting additional opportunity given to me, mainly by [AFS Racing owner] Gary Peterson working with Michael Andretti. We were in talks the whole season--we knew we wanted to do at least three races, and it seemed like everything got sorted out after Sonoma. We were excited after a great weekend there, and how we managed to do a good car and good progress for the team. So we decided that we were ready to do Fontana, and there were no second thoughts about it.

You're going to be a teammate of a guy (Hunter-Reay) going for a championship. Will your with the team be any different in terms of setup or participation than it was at say, Indianapolis this year?

SS: We've always been a very open team in that respect. All the drivers and engineers share that information, and all the team engineers are good about sitting down and sharing what needs done. In that sense, it's going to be exactly the same as Indy. We're going to spread the work four ways, which is a big benefit for the team, since it means we get to try and test perhaps twice as more as some of the other teams can. We'll be doing what we can to get that advantage in qualifying, and of course the race.

You've obviously had a solid relationship with AFS Racing and Andretti Autosport; do you see that continuing through to next year?

SS: I sure hope so! [laughs] It's been so great working with them since '09 in arriving from Europe, and they've really become like a family. That's why I don't miss Europe in any way. I really not only enjoy working with my teammates, but the chemistry of getting to build up seasons with the mechanics and all the guys. It's something I hope continues for a long, long time.

Jumping back to the upcoming weekend for a minute: what sort of race do you think we'll see at the MAVTV 500 for the season finale, now that you've had some testing time?

SS: I do believe we'll see...(pauses)...Texas 1.1. It's going to be a very intense, very interesting track. Having the last-chance for the title between Will [Power] and Hunter-Reay should make it even better. It's a place that brings back the ideas of the loose car and needing to really drive the car because of the aero wickedness, and for that I think it's going to be even more intense.

Let's talk about Firestone Indy Lights for a minute. You've had some success as well as some bad luck this year in Lights. How would you rate your season so far this year?

SS: For me, it's been an amazing season. It was a bit scary when I got the call from Gary saying he wanted to do a long-term relationship, but one of the things we had to do was do a full, successful Indy Lights season. We had to bring up the name of AFS to the top, which hasn't happened the last few years. For me, it was an honor to be given that trust and that job of bringing that team back, and I feel we were successful.

Out of the first ten races, we had seven podiums, and that's amazing. Unfortunately, we also had two mechanical failures which put us back in the championship fight, but that's something we can't control--just an unlucky situation. I love the job we've done with the car, and am pretty sure in 2013 guys will be happy with the program they're going to get.

Saavedra: "It was the best thing I've done for my career"
(Courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
Looking now at how you took a step back to Indy Lights and a part-time IndyCar schedule after 2011, do you still feel it was the right move?

SS: Completely. I have no doubts. It was a scary move, but I also think it was the best thing I've done for my career. Really, it was a smart move, something probably 90% of the drivers wouldn't do. Yes, you have your ego's touchy state, but I get to keep a very open mind, knowing my age. I'm still one of the youngest drivers in the field, and to be honest, already going to Indy three times and being a test driver with Andretti since '09 and still being 22 years old, it helped with that decision and thinking more about my evolution and progress as a driver.

So is the possible plan for AFS to sort of dip their toe further into the IZOD IndyCar Series with you?

SS: Yes, exactly. We've been doing this for a while, looking at options, and we're coming up to a very interesting project.

Which of the Indy Lights drivers this year do you see as having what it takes to be successful at the next level? 

SS: This season was one of the most talented fields in Indy Lights in a long time. Yes, there's the poor numbers of cars entered, but that doesn't mean the talented isn't there. I have a good relationship and lots of respect for Esteban [Guerrieri], who I've known since racing in Europe. He's a driver with a lot of talent and years of experience behind him. I also think Tristan [Vautier] is doing really well--at this level of motorsports, he's already showing speed, maturity, and that will to win.

One more follow up question for the fans: how are those 2013 plans progressing? Is there some good news coming?

SS: For sure! Of course, there's very little I can talk about right now, but there are some very good things to come. I'm very happy for the opportunities this season, and am very thankful to everyone involved, and also for what's to come.

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