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.

Danica Patrick to sign off driving career at 2018 Indy 500

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With her full-time career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now coming to an end, following the end of the 2017 season this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick is embarking on a new path in 2018 with the two biggest 500-mile races in North America.

Patrick confirmed plans to participate in North America’s most marquee 500-mile races, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, during a press conference today in Miami. A team for the Indianapolis 500 has not been determined, and her options for the Daytona 500 are limited to NASCAR teams with three or fewer full-time cars, because a four-car full-time team cannot enter a fifth for the Daytona 500.

Patrick ended her full-time career in IndyCar after 2011 to head to NASCAR. She drove 10 races in 2012 before her first full Cup season in 2013, where she won the pole for that year’s Daytona 500 and ultimately finished eighth.

Her Cup career has seen her finish between 24th and 28th in points with seven career top-10 finishes, all between sixth and 10th place. She ranks 27th heading into this week’s finale too.

It was her IndyCar career though where she first entered the national conversation after a few years of apprenticeship driving for Bobby Rahal’s Barber Dodge and Formula Atlantic teams. A fourth place finish in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 with a number of laps led launched her into the racing stratosphere and helped produce the Indianapolis 500’s biggest rating in years.

Ultimately her best finish in the ‘500 in seven starts was third place in 2009, behind Helio Castroneves and the late Dan Wheldon.

She won at Motegi, 2008, for her first and only win in IndyCar.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 29: Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team GoDaddy Dallara Honda, makes a pit stop during the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

A visibly emotional Patrick announced this was the end of her full-time driving career to kick off the press conference, but switched to her future plans once she got through the opening remarks.

Patrick “never thought” she’d do the Indianapolis 500 again but when tossing around future ideas, the concept of running both Daytona and Indianapolis came up.

“I never thought I would do it. I always thought never, but I never said never. Here I am,” she said.

“Out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ That was really the first sort of idea that got me excited. Let’s do it. I called Haley (Moore, longtime PR rep). What did I just say I would do? She said, ‘Hell yes that’s a good idea.’

“I’m still surprised.”

Patrick will need to participate in the Indianapolis 500 refresher program for drivers that aren’t full-time drivers, so that will provide her a couple hours additional track time before practice opens to the full field in mid-May.

The new 2018 Dallara universal body kit comes into being this year too, and Patrick thinks she has improved as a driver over the last six seasons to be able to come back.

“(Going) 240… it’ll be no problem,” she deadpanned. “It’ll take a bit of adjusting. It’s different for sure. But I think I’m a better driver now. It’ll take a bit of acclimating. Yeah, I would like to get in a car before I get to Indy.”

Patrick said running the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 “could” occur with her same teams she last ran with full-time, Stewart-Haas Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively. But her options remain open for both.