Indianapolis 500 - Practice

Will third full-time chance be the charm for Sebastian Saavedra?

1 Comment

It’s take two for “Seb squared,” with Sebastian Saavedra rejoining Sebastien Bourdais for a second straight year in the IndyCar Series. The difference is, this year it’s at KV Racing, compared to Dragon Racing in 2013.

On a conference call Wednesday, Saavedra spoke highly of the chance to work with Bourdais again, as did KV team co-owner Jimmy Vasser.

“Keeping the Sebastians together is important,” Vasser said. “I know how they work, because the first season is awkward with new teammates. How they’ve worked together good or bad. It will be beneficial.”

“I have a four-time champ as a teammate, it’s more of a benefit than anything,” Saavedra said. “I want to build my own career, forge my own path, but for sure I will use his expertise. Driving with him last year, we know each other, know where he came from. We build it throughout the season and he didn’t need to teach me that much. We’re going to be an interesting pair.”

Vasser also said that Saavedra surprised him at times with his pace early in 2013.

“At times with Conquest and last year early on, he was really being very competitive to outpacing Bourdais, that was very impressive,” Vasser said. “The speed is there. It takes a few years to get comfortable in this series, and then start to have your legs underneath you.”

Saavedra tests today at Sonoma, and will have further tests in Sebring and Texas before the official preseason test at Barber in March.

To this point, Saavedra’s had an uneven IndyCar career. He’s only 23, and 2014 will mark his third full season with his third different team, after spending the 2011 season with Conquest Racing and last year with Dragon. He stepped down to Indy Lights in 2012, and raced with Andretti Autosport in an AFS-backed entry with a handful of IndyCar starts.

Purely on results, Saavedra has done little to merit a seat. In 38 career starts, Saavedra only has two top-10 finishes – eighth at Baltimore and 10th at Detroit Race 2 last year. He did outqualify Bourdais five times in 2013, but due to an engineering tailspin and other crew changes in the second half of the year, his qualifying fell off dramatically. He did not start better than 18th in any of the last 10 races.

He hasn’t had a truly “wow” moment in IndyCar. When you think of the things that stand out, it was a last-minute qualifying effort on the first day of qualifying at Indy 2012, so he wouldn’t need to qualify on Bump Day, or his Dragon car’s blue chrome paint glitter-bombing the track in last year’s practice, or his double-bird outburst against Marco Andretti in Detroit that cost him $30,000 and put him on probation.

Still, you get the sense that, like a Simona de Silvestro before she advanced to KV last year, Saavedra’s still not had a great opportunity with better equipment.

He occasionally overachieved with Conquest, showed flashes of speed in his Andretti cameos, and had a pair of ninth place starts to open 2013 with Dragon, so he has his moments.

In Indy Lights in 2012, he regularly beat teammate Carlos Munoz, who’s now racing with Andretti. In that 2009 rookie season, he won twice and finished third in the points, ahead of future IndyCar race winners James Hinchcliffe and Charlie Kimball. He only trailed JR Hildebrand and James Davison.

There are occasional flashes of brilliance. He just needs to deliver with greater consistency in 2014.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the field in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Next up is fourth-placed Graham Rahal, who had a career year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

  • 2014: 19th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 28 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 4th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 5th, 6 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10s, 76 Laps Led, 11.0 Avg Start, 8.5 Avg. Finish

Formula 1 fans will remember the miraculous, shock rise of Brawn GP, which didn’t even exist as a team until mere weeks before the 2009 Australian Grand Prix having risen from the demise of the former Honda factory team, and then promptly proceeded to stomp the field en route to winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships that season.

It’s the best racing comparison in recent years – or perhaps any year – for what was done at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2015, courtesy of a career year from Graham Rahal, an instant chemistry renewal with the people father Bobby put in place, and the fact Bobby himself stepped back this year to allow his team’s key players to shine through.

Because quite simply, after finishes of 18th and 19th the last two seasons, no one in their right mind had Rahal winning races and contending for a championship this season.

It’s hard to say specifically which point was most important, because all played dividends. Bobby Rahal moved off the pit box, and actually missed a fair number of races this year, which allowed Graham and team manager Ricardo Nault to gel with Nault on the radio and pretty much running the team on the whole. Then there were the three key crewmember additions: Eddie Jones moving over to be lead engineer on the No. 15 car was clutch, as was Rahal getting the opportunity to reunite with Martin Pare and work for the first time with Mike Talbott. The addition of damper ace Stuart Kenworthy was not covered much this year, but undoubtedly a big help. Sponsor Steak ‘n Shake’s arrival also brought a wealth of attention.

And then there were the drives in the races themselves. Perhaps strangely, Rahal had a tough qualifying average – only 11th – but it was the best for a Honda driver this year. The strategy calls from RLL were damn near perfect all year and Rahal seized every opportunity at his disposal, be it his wins at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, his recovery at Iowa, and his numerous other podiums throughout the year. His charge to second at Barber stands out as one of the drives of the year.

Call Fontana lucky if you will, and he was fortunate to avoid a penalty for leaving with the fuel buckeye, but even so he still could have come back given where the race was at that point. And being on the receiving end of two ill-advised taps from Tristan Vautier and Sebastien Bourdais at Pocono and Sonoma, respectively, cost him huge results and huge points – the net effect of three races.

The single-car title charge was one of the stories of the year, even beyond Scott Dixon’s championship comeback and Juan Pablo Montoya’s consistent-until-Sonoma season. Rahal re-established his credentials on track if people had forgotten what he was capable of; additionally, he reaffirmed his status as one of racing’s best people with his work in the Justin Wilson memorial auction after that tragedy. It was truly a ’15 to remember for the driver of the No. 15 car.

Nick Tandy is on a ridiculous roll of form of late

Tandy (second from left) is on a roll. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the international sports car season nearing its conclusion after a few more FIA World Endurance Championship and other international GT championship events, the question begins to be asked who might be the driver of the year.

There’s a British driver who’s pretty much firmly got that title wrapped at the moment – Nick Tandy – even though the nature of his season means he is unlikely to capture any championship on his own!

Tandy has competed in the full FIA World Endurance Championship season, splitting his time between the LMP2 class Oreca 05 Nissan from KCMG and a third Porsche 919 Hybrid in LMP1, which he drove at Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Though Nico Hulkenberg got many non-insider accolades for his drive at Le Mans, it was truly Tandy’s overnight stint, coupled with regular fellow factory Porsche pilot Earl Bamber, that won the race for the No. 19 Porsche.

That win for Tandy has kicked off a ridiculous run of form, culminating with his shock – but thoroughly well-deserved – overall win Saturday night at Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda, co-driving the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR with Patrick Pilet (Richard Lietz, the designated third driver, did not drive).

Tandy won three consecutive GT Le Mans class races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road America and Virginia International Raceway.

A week after VIR, Tandy was back at KCMG for the first time since Silverstone in April and co-drove to victory in the LMP2 class at the Nürburgring.

After a relatively “rough” month of September where Tandy and Pilet needed a late splash of fuel to make the finish and lost a shot at a fourth straight GTLM class win, they rebounded this weekend at Petit Le Mans.

“The fact that we were a lot of time the fastest cars on track, so by racing against each other, naturally we had to race against the prototypes. So when they were in our way we had to race against us,” Tandy explained post-race at Petit Le Mans of his drive against, and past, the prototypes.

“When the race was coming to a close, I was aware that the 31 car was in the lead, but I knew if we had another rain shower I knew we would checker the race, so that was why I was pushing so hard to get ahead of the GTLM cars, and once I had done that and we had a really good pace and were comfortable we were catching the 31.

“It was a case of just pulling ahead of the rest, but we ended up winning overall, so it was fantastic. [opening] “The opening stint opened our eyes to the fact that we could actually be fighting for the overall victory, the fact we came from the back of the field to I think we were running second on pure pace.

“To be honest, the first 2 hours were the best conditions we had. We had consistent rain, but very little running water. Clearly towards the end, it dried out a little more and our pace compared to the other classes and the BMW and Corvettes came back. It was a race of two halves really.”