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Saavedra Returns to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Sebastian Saavedra is getting another chance with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as the organization announced he will drive the No. 7 Lucas Oil Honda at Pocono Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park.

“I am very excited to be back with the SPM organization,” Saavedra said. “It’s another late call to jump in, but I take it with pride after a promising start of our relationship in Toronto. Looking forward to a challenging event as the ‘Tricky Triangle’ can be, and support (James) Hinchcliffe in his pursuit of championship points. I’m thankful to my sponsors and my continued relationship with AFS Inc.”

The ABC Supply 500 this weekend marks Saavedra’a second start with the team in 2017, following the Honda Indy Toronto where he placed 11th. He will once again be paired with race engineer Blair Perschbacher, with the pair having previous experience from Indy Lights.

“Delighted to have Sebastian back with the SPM team following what was a very encouraging performance at the Toronto event,” said Piers Phillips, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ general manager. “He is experienced and competent, and I have no doubt he will contribute to the overall performance of the team. We’re heading to Pocono full of confidence as a team and we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing Sebastian and James at the front of the pack.”

 

The opportunity for the Colombian comes virtue of his longtime partner, AFS Racing, who will sponsor him for both events.

 “It’s great to team up with (team co-owner) Sam (Schmidt) after the great rivalry we had in the (Indy) Lights championship,” said Gary Peterson, president and CEO of AFS Inc. “After Sebastian’s positive performance in Toronto, the next two events will be an opportunity to show his strength on ovals and that he is a great candidate for the 2018 season with SPM.”

The pair of events will mark his 64th and 65th series starts, with Saavedra having posted a previous best finish of 15th at Pocono.

Beyond Gateway, it has not been announced who will drive the No. 7 entry following the team releasing Mikhail Aleshin so he can “focus on the design and development of the new BR1 LMP1 car.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Saavedra “Very Positive” About Substitute Performance

TORONTO, Ontario — When it was announced at the last minute that Sebastian Saavedra would be behind the wheel of the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry for the Honda Indy Toronto, nobody was unsure what to expect this weekend. After all, Saavedra had not driven the current configuration of aero kit, nor competed on the street circuit in two years.

Though with an 11th-place finish, Saavedra will leave Ontario’s capital city with a smile on his face.

“(It was) very positive,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a successful weekend all together with my teammate Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) being on the podium and us just shy of clinching a top-10. But we brought the No. 7 home without any damage, and saw evolution with the car through the weekend so very happy about it.”

Making his 63rd career Verizon IndyCar Series start, he completed 78 laps across the three practice sessions over the weekend, posting the 15th-quickest lap in Saturday morning’s session after being 21st on Friday. He kept his expectations “realistic,” stating before the event that he wanted to complete every lap and continue developing the car further for the team.

Starting from 20th on the grid, he made his way forward throughout the event, escaping a couple of incidents without any damage while his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team chose the right strategy en route to 11th.

The reason for Saavedra subbing for Mikhail Aleshin was never announced by the team, with them stating “no further comment” on the situation.

Aleshin has been in this situation before, with a question of sponsorship funding delaying his contract signing for this season. He also has been involved in a couple of massive wrecks through the year, as well, and missed Road America practice due to VISA issues following the 24 Hours of LeMan. As to whether there’s a connection and how the future will shake out is unclear.

For Saavedra, though, it panned out to be a great opportunity that he took advantage of, proving that he can jump in a car and do a decent job. The Colombian stated post-race the team has yet to notify him about any plans, if there are more events to come.

“It’s up in the air,” he said. “I don’t know what will be happening from a week from now. Everything is happening so quickly that we shall see tomorrow what comes.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Honda Indy Toronto Notes: Saavedra Learning; RHR and Rahal Search for More

TORONTO, Ontario — While Team Penske continues to show speed this season, sweeping all three Honda Indy Toronto practices, their competitors are battling hard and trying to figure out the rough bumps of the street course.

Following the three sessions of practice, here are some storylines to keep an eye on leading into the event.

Saavedra The Substitute

Mikhail Aleshin, who typically drives the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry, is instead on the sidelines this week watching as the Honda-team made a driver switch just before the event, stating “no further comment” on the situation.

Sebastian Saavedra will be behind the wheel, reuniting with race engineer Blair Perschbacher, for his 63rd career Verizon IndyCar Series start. Notably, the Columbian’s last appearance on the streets of Toronto came in 2015 with a 16th-place finish.

Saavedra was able to complete 78 laps across the three practices, posting the 15th-quickest lap in Saturday morning’s session. He told POPULAR SPEED afterward that the practices were “very productive.”

“I wouldn’t say good or bad because I was realistic,” he added. “These guys are good at what they do, that’s why they get the paychecks, so I came here with an open mind and here we are. We’re using every lap to get to know the team, the engine, the new aero kit – it’s been three years since my last time here, so it’s going to take awhile.”

Going into the event, he admits that he hasn’t set any goals in stone, but rather focused on helping teammate and hometown driver James Hinchcliffe do as well as possible, and bringing his own entry home cleanly. Notably, Hinchcliffe was fourth quickest in the Saturday session.

Hunting for Success

Following a third-place finish at Iowa Speedway, Ryan Hunter-Reay hopes to keep the momentum going this weekend in Toronto after starting off the year on a rough note. While known for being a front runner, the Andretti Autosport driver only posted two top-10’s in the first 10 races of 2017.

Hunter-Reay commented on Friday that he felt they were “decent,” but knew they had “a lot of work to do tomorrow to be more competitive.” It seems the homework paid off, though, as he was fifth-quickest on Saturday morning.

The American has been successful in Toronto in the past, visiting victory lane in 2012.

Rahal is Confident

After sweeping both events on the street of Detroit, Graham Rahal entered Toronto with confidence as he felt his single-car team could compete for the victory again. Those expectations have been on par so far, as he was sixth quickest on Saturday morning.

“We are pretty competitive here – obviously, we’d like to be a little stronger,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “But we’re in the hunt. Just gotta keep working hard, put our heads down and focus on the end goal which is to qualify and race up front.”

When it comes to catching Team Penske, he says they could be better “a little bit everywhere.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary Open Wheel

Indy One-Off Entries Pose Threat

In years past, it was typical for a competitor who raced in just the Indianapolis 500 to be able to challenge the full-time regulars.

Although the practice is few and far between recently, the Brickyard has witnessed a few drivers who have shown the potential to make the favorites sweat. While current Formula One regular Fernando Alonso has garnered most of the attention, there are others who appear capable of rattling the cages on race day.

One of them could be Sage Karam, who is looking to return to full-time status in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Last year, in a one-race deal with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, the Pennsylvanian had moved into the top-ten before contact with Townsend Bell put him into the turn one wall. Two years earlier as a rookie, Karam and DRR also joined forces to move from 31st to ninth at the finish. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran Kurt Busch won Rookie of the Race honors in 2014; however, many experts felt Karam was also worth a look for the award.

Sebastian Saavedra is also trying to reclaim a spot on the IndyCar circuit. The Colombian is competing for Juncos Racing this month, a regular fixture in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship. The Speedway, Indiana-based operation is looking to move up to IndyCar action full-time next year. A good result could add Saavedra to Ricardo Juncos’ list of potential pilots, maybe alongside Spencer Pigot, who will drive a second car for the Argentinian this month.

Unfortunately, Karam and Saavedra each have a reputation for overaggressive driving in the past. Both have been eliminated in a pair of Indy 500s due to accidents, and controlling the urge will be crucial for success.

This then leads us to the two drivers with F1 experience, Alonso and two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya. The Spaniard proved a quick study during a private at IMS on May 3 and could show legitimacy from the opening of practice. However, he faces the same set of unknowns that others have tackled, perhaps none better than Nigel Mansell, who came within 15 laps of winning in 1993 only to settle for third-place at the conclusion.

Montoya has proven effective at both ends of the grid. As a first-time competitor in 2000, he started second and led 167 laps to become the first newcomer to win the Indy 500 since Graham Hill in 1966. In 2015, he recovered from early contact with Simona de Silvestro to earn his second Indy win. However, the charges through the field are not always immune from trouble. Last year, Montoya crashed in turn two and wound up 33rd.

The table is stacked against these four men and the other one and done Indy 500 entrants; however, all it takes is a strong performance coupled with a little luck and just maybe one could add their face to the Borg-Warner Trophy.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.     

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indiana Jones And The Corner Of Doom?

No folks, yours truly is not involved in a new movie, but just leaving a friendly reminder for the IndyCar Grand Prix.

While the first three editions of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road races have produced plenty of drama, they have one thing in common – first lap chaos wiping out key contenders.

The inaugural event provided the first, and last standing start in history. Pole winner Sebastian Saavedra’s shot at glory was extinguished when his car stalled on the grid. The scenario was only made worse when the Colombian was plowed into from behind by Mikhail Aleshin. Neither driver suffered injuries in the shunt, but it ended the desire for the Verizon IndyCar Series to employ the method used in Formula One.

Going with a traditional rolling green flag in 2015, early trouble still resulted with turn one contact between Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon; the Brazilian went off-course as the Iceman spun. The incident also wreaked havoc among mid-pack runners as Jack Hawksworth and Josef Newgarden were collected, among others. With Dixon and Castroneves out of contention, Will Power cruised to the victory.

Last year, saw another turn one melee as Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais made contact while looking to gain positions.

The biggest issue at the Speedway is the difference concerning room available on the front straightaway as opposed to turn one. While cars can go three and four-wide on the straight, all must find a way to funnel down to single-file to enter the infield section of the course without incident.

In 2017, things could work out more efficiently. Team Penske teammates Power and Castroneves will lineup on row one, with fellow compatriots Josef Newgarden and Juan Pablo Montoya in the top-five. Considering Roger Penske does not employ team orders, it is expected that those four, plus Simon Pagenaud in eighth, will have the green light to attempt to gain ground on the start. That comes with an asterisk though, as contact must be avoided.

With championship implications starting to show themselves, a first lap issue would be most detrimental for Power, who has suffered from bad breaks in each of the first three road courses. The Australian has also not been immune from an issue in the IndyCar Grand Prix, either. Last year’s performance was ruined via an early race spin trying to hold back Alexander Rossi.

While avoiding dramas on turn one does not ultimately equal a victory, any issue suffered could certainly deny at least one pilot a stab at finding the winner’s circle on Saturday.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News Open Wheel

Saavedra to Run Indy 500 for Juncos

Sebastian Saavedra will make his return behind the wheel of a Verizon IndyCar Series car, running 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Juncos Racing.

“I am pleased to announce that Sebastian Saavedra will drive the No. 17 AFS/ Juncos Racing in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500,” said Juncos Racing owner Ricardo Juncos. “Sebastian’s IndyCar oval and Indy 500 experience will be an asset for our team especially considering that this will be our first year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I want to thank AFS owner and co-entrant of the AFS/Juncos Racing car, Gary Peterson, for making this relationship possible. Gary also has a lot of experience at the Speedway which I know will be helpful to our effort. I also want to thank the management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Verizon IndyCar Series and Chevrolet for their advice and support as we embark on this adventure.”

Despite being away from the series for a year, the 26-year-old has 60 starts to his credit, including five Indianapolis 500s with a best finish of 15th. The Columbian made his IndyCar debut in 2010, after winning the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Rookie of the Year in 2009.

Commenting on competing in the 2017 Indy 500 with Juncos Racing Saavedra said, “I am very excited about this opportunity. We have been working on this project for some time now and making it a happen is a great feeling for all the parties involved. I feel very blessed to have such a unique and special relationship with AFS for nine consecutive years. In particular with ‘’The Boss” Gary Peterson. After a year off, it is gratifying to be back on the race track. This is something I am very proud of and looking forward to.

“I want to thank Ricardo (Juncos) and the whole Juncos Racing organization. Back in January going into the new Juncos Racing shop and seeing the great manpower and the facilities gave me a lot of confidence. I’m approaching this year with the right mindset. I am looking forward to a strong month of May for both AFS and Juncos Racing.”

Juncos Racing announced earlier this year they would be expanding from the Mazda Road to Indy this season, running two entries in the Indianapolis 500 before a possible full slate in 2018. They announced on Tuesday that Spencer Pigot would drive the No. 11 Chevrolet.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.