Viso, Saavedra look to make most of new opportunities

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E.J. Viso (right) is heading for his biggest chance to date in the IZOD IndyCar Series – even if that means being a bit overshadowed to start.

Viso, entering his sixth year in IndyCar, will be running this season with Andretti Autosport, which boasts a driving stable that features the reigning series champion (Ryan Hunter-Reay), the series’ most popular driver (James Hinchcliffe), and a third generation of racing royalty (Marco Andretti).

But the Venezuelan is confident that, along with earning better results on the track, he can be a valuable teammate. The foursome tested last week at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.

“I believe I’m just going to add a lot of things into that synergy that was already created in the last year,” Viso said earlier this month in an INDYCAR teleconference.

“I like the three drivers and I think each one of them have their own forte, and obviously, [with] Ryan winning the championship, that’s a great momentum that the team has, that hopefully we can continue.”

Another driver in new surroundings, Sebastian Saavedra, also hopes to do well in 2013. He is stepping back up to full-time IndyCar competition with Dragon Racing, teaming up with four-time Champ Car World Series champion and ex-Formula 1 racer Sebastien Bourdais.

Saavedra, who ran with Conquest Racing in 2011 and focused mostly on the developmental Firestone Indy Lights series last season, comes to Dragon in the midst of controversy after taking over the team’s second ride that used to belong to Katherine Legge – who has promised legal action over the matter.

As far as on-track matters go, however, Saavedra is focused on helping Dragon move up the grid.

“The team is so positive about how they were able to build up last season, so we come with so much energy coming into the first race of the season at St. Petersburg,” Saavedra said to IndyCar.com. “We’re looking very good and looking to make things happen with [Bourdais], and I believe we’re a good combination to push each other.”

Will Viso and Saavedra’s fresh starts translate to success? With less than a month before the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Mar. 24, Noon ET on NBC Sports Network), we’ll know the answer soon enough.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.