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Third full year, and first real chance, for Saavedra to shine in 2014

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Sebastian Saavedra enters 2014 in a bit of an odd position.

The Colombian is only 23, but 2014 will mark his fifth different IndyCar season, and third full one. In each season, he’s been with a different organization.

He made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2010 by accident – literally – after he crashed late on Bump Day. But enough other cars withdrew their times to see Saavedra’s time still eligible for the field of 33. His debut was also the first race for Bryan Herta Autosport in the series.

Later in 2010, he started the season finale for Conquest Racing, which helped propel him into a full-time seat for 2011. With limited funding available, Saavedra struggled but occasionally overachieved despite missing two end-of-season races.

In 2012, he made a decision mature beyond his years, to step back to Indy Lights and learn more. In an AFS/Andretti Autosport entry, Saavedra won several races and had poor luck. But he got the chance at three more IndyCar starts with the same program, and again, did enough to merit some consideration for 2013.

So 2013 arrived and Saavedra entered the lair of Dragon Racing, but under controversial circumstances as an 11th hour replacement for Katherine Legge in the TrueCar-backed Chevrolet. Yet out of the gate, Saavedra turned in some sterling qualifying performances that left teammate Sebastien Bourdais scratching his head. Bourdais’ program improved in the second half of the year while Saavedra’s went the opposite direction entirely, in part due to crew changes.

You could argue for 2014, as Saavedra enters the AFS-backed KV Racing second seat – ironically as Bourdais’ teammate again – that he’s in exactly the same boat as the second KV driver last year, Simona de Silvestro (and yes, the names are confusingly similar).

Like de Silvestro, Saavedra has not had a full-season, top-flight opportunity and should improve from what was a trying previous season. Yet the field is so deep that given the lateness of this program coming together, it could take a few races for driver-and-team to hit their stride.

As it is, Saavedra’s relationship with Gary Peterson, through two Andretti stints and now for KV, has been the guiding force of his career.

“When I came from Europe in 2009, Gary was pretty much like my second dad, having my first dad present here of course,” Saavedra explained during IndyCar media day in Orlando.

“We built a very strong relationship.  He took me below his wing to develop me inside his driving development program. We come through since then.”

The step down to Indy Lights was something Saavedra had to do to stay in the frame. In recent years, he’s been the only example of a driver willing to make that decision rather than explore other series.

“It was that or doing nothing at all,” he admitted. “But it came with the opportunity to make ourselves stronger with AFS and Gary Peterson, trying not only to prepare, but keep learning.  At that time, being 20 years old, I had the opportunity to take chances, and still can.

“Now looking back, this is a reality because of those days.”

The KV/AFS partnership came together quickly, but KV team co-owner Jimmy Vasser has said this winter it is important to maintain teammate continuity. Saavedra learned from Bourdais last year, although both are optimistic they can forge their own paths this year to push the team forward.

“I’m actually being forced to,” Saavedra joked about working with Bourdais.

“No, we built a really great relationship last year. I think I respect Bourdais a lot and he respects me. I think that’s the key to building a great partnership with your teammate.

“I think we were able to understand each other and see development-wise that we needed each other to move forward. So I think it makes it a lot easier to have somebody by your side. As Jimmy said, you broke those barriers of who the heck is by my side. Definitely it’s a plus to have him on my side, something that is already natural.”

The “move forward” that both Saavedra and KV need to target in 2014 is an improved qualifying effort. Saavedra was tied for the worst qualifying average in the field in 2013 – 17.7 – with nary a Firestone Fast Six appearance and no starts better than 18th in the final 10 races.

The flashes of speed in the first half of nine races included five starts of 11th or better, with a best of sixth at Milwaukee.

He also only has two career top-10 finishes from 38 career starts. Those numbers can only improve if the qualifying does.

Road and street course qualifying was an area KV struggled in 2013. Both de Silvestro and Tony Kanaan had occasional highlights, but combined for only three Fast Six appearances between them.

Because Saavedra’s 2013 was such a struggle, he does enter 2014 from a position of strength knowing that he has nowhere to go but up. And Vasser expects his pair of “Sebs” to do just that.

“Jimmy sees Bourdais with a lot of respect, of course.  He saw me as the youngster that pretty much still has no limits,” Saavedra said. “He’s demanding a lot, of course. But that’s something we’re very welcome to.”

NHRA: John Force, Tony Schumacher earn first wins in over a year

NHRA winners Sunday at Denver (left to right): Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photos, videos courtesy NHRA)
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It was like old times in Sunday’s final round of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver.

For the first time in over a year, the two winningest drivers in nitro fuel history reached the winner’s circle.

John Force, winningest driver in NHRA annals, earned his 144th career Funny Car victory, while Tony Schumacher, winningest driver in the Top Fuel ranks, earned his 81st career win in a dragster.

Also earning wins at the Morrison, Colorado track were Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Force (3.965 seconds/319.45 mph) defeated daughter Courtney (3.963/314.75) in the Funny Car final. Not only was it John Force’s first win since June 2015, it was also the seventh of his career at Denver.

“I didn’t have a monkey on my back, it was a gorilla,” Force said in a NHRA media release. “I needed this real bad. I told Courtney I love her, but I am giving this everything I’ve got.

“Let’s face it, we’ve been getting beat up lately by the Schumacher and Kalitta teams. It’s a great day to come here and look like we know what we’re doing.”

https://youtu.be/UI1w0vVD3k4

At 67, the elder Force becomes the oldest driver to win a NHRA Funny Car race.

“Let’s face it, the competition is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Force, who became the first Funny Car driver to ever break the four-second barrier at Bandimere Speedway. “It’s tough to race my little girl there and it was a close one. I can do this game. I love it. I don’t have anywhere to go. I am going to keep doing this. I want to keep building this sport.”

As for Schumacher, he won for the third time in his career at Bandimere, notching his first win since early July 2015 (at his home track, Route 66 Raceway, in suburban Chicago).

Schumacher (3.802 seconds at 324.28 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown (5.199/144.75) after the latter slowed at half-track in the final round to earn the victory.

“To win one of these trophies you have to beat some bad dudes, and we beat a bunch of them today from Doug Kalitta to Antron Brown,” said Schumacher, who outran Kalitta in round one, top qualifier Steve Torrence in the quarterfinals and Clay Millican in the semis to advance to the final round meeting with Brown. “I’ve enjoyed great moments in racing during my career, but coming back from a huge deficit when people have counted you out like we have done this weekend is the most satisfying to me.”

https://youtu.be/Op5NgZGDENk

But there was good news for defending series champ Brown, even in defeat: he remains in the lead of the Top Fuel standings, holding a 57-point edge over second-ranked Doug Kalitta.

In Pro Stock, Johnson (6.982 seconds at 197.34 mph) won for a record seventh time at Bandimere (along with three other runner-up finishes), defeating Vincent Nobile (7.037/196.82).

“We stunk the place up all weekend during qualifying,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t have given us a one percent chance to win all weekend. The magic up here is just on our side for some reason.”

Johnson becomes the first driver other than points leaders Jason Line or Greg Anderson to win a Pro Stock race this season. Line and Anderson combined to win the first 13 races of the 24-race season.

https://youtu.be/V-t0GeWTKbY

“I am sure I am speaking for everyone in the pits, but to break that juggernaut is big,” Johnson said. “We might have got a break or two along the way, but I guess that was that mountain magic. It was great to win here for all the great Denver and Mopar fans and to get the win on live TV on FOX.”

Sunday’s race was a milestone in NHRA history as it marked the first time in the sanctioning body’s 65 years that a race was televised on national network television (FOX TV).

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines (7.134 seconds at 188.33 mph) became the winningest two-wheel rider in history, earning his 45th career triumph, defeating teammate Eddie Krawiec (7.148/187.21).

In addition, it was Hines’ third win of the season.

https://youtu.be/NAcEDV9T5U4

“Coming back to win on the mountain, it means a lot,” Hines said. “My team has had my motorcycle really dialed in right now. It is our third final in a row and I am just riding the wave. I don’t think I’ve ever put eight runs like that together in a weekend. The bike is such a joy to ride right now.”

The annual “Western Swing” continues next weekend (July 29-31) at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Tony Schumacher; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  Clay Millican; 4.  J.R. Todd; 5.  Shawn Langdon; 6. Richie Crampton; 7.  Brittany Force; 8.  Steve Torrence; 9.  Doug Kalitta; 10.  Scott Palmer; 11. Chris Karamesines; 12.  Bill Litton; 13.  Terry Haddock; 14.  Rob Passey; 15.  Leah Pritchett; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  John Force; 2.  Courtney Force; 3.  Robert Hight; 4.  Del Worsham; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Matt Hagan; 7.  John Hale; 8.  Ron Capps; 9.  Jack Beckman; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Todd Simpson; 12.  Chad Head; 13.  Cruz Pedregon; 14.  Jim Campbell; 15.  Jeff Diehl; 16.  Tim Wilkerson.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Allen Johnson; 2.  Vincent Nobile; 3.  Jason Line; 4.  Greg Anderson; 5.  Bo Butner; 6.  Alex Laughlin; 7.  Erica Enders; 8.  Chris McGaha; 9.  Shane Gray; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Richie Stevens; 12.  Drew Skillman; 13.  Deric Kramer; 14.  Matt Hartford; 15.  Alan Prusiensky.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Eddie Krawiec; 3.  Jerry Savoie; 4.  LE Tonglet; 5.  Angelle Sampey; 6.  Chip Ellis; 7.  Cory Reed; 8.  Matt Smith; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  Shawn Gann; 11.  Tyler Fisher; 12. Karen Stoffer; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Michael Ray; 15.  Scotty Pollacheck; 16.  Hector Arana.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS:

Top Fuel: Tony Schumacher, 3.802 seconds, 324.28 mph  def. Antron Brown, 5.199 seconds, 144.75 mph.

Funny Car: John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.965, 319.45  def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.963, 314.75.

Pro Stock: Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.982, 197.39  def. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 7.037, 196.82.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.134, 188.33  def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.148, 187.21.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.788, 321.19 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.832, 320.74; Clay Millican, 3.821, 316.23 def. Terry Haddock, 4.284, 286.80; Antron Brown, 3.870, 308.28 def. Rob Passey, 4.396, 208.91; Steve Torrence, 3.843, 321.35 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.089, 297.02; Richie Crampton, 4.113, 280.37 def. Bill Litton, 4.178, 280.49; Brittany Force, 3.829, 317.05 def. Terry McMillen, 5.684, 125.96; J.R. Todd, 3.844, 318.62 def. Scott Palmer, 4.019, 282.78; Shawn Langdon, 4.288, 194.97 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.877, 181.45;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.840, 317.05 def. Langdon, 3.831, 316.90; Millican, 3.857, 313.80 def. Force, 4.204, 271.95; Todd, 3.841, 322.11 def. Crampton, 3.862, 312.57; Schumacher, 4.083, 275.73 def. Torrence, 4.381, 194.49;

SEMIFINALS — Schumacher, 3.839, 319.90 def. Millican, 3.841, 317.49; Brown, 3.826, 307.86 def. Todd, 3.915, 274.05;

FINAL — Schumacher, 3.802, 324.28 def. Brown, 5.199, 144.75.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.047, 316.45 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.078, 301.47; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.972, 315.42 def. Jim Campbell, Toyota Camry, 5.964, 126.59; John Force, Camaro, 4.001, 312.35 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 6.219, 94.02; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.024, 317.12 def. Todd Simpson, Camaro, 4.411, 230.57; John Hale, Charger, 4.303, 240.64 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.324, 232.71; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.992, 320.58 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 5.846, 123.67; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.039, 318.62 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, Broke – No Show; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.041, 306.40 def. Chad Head, Camry, 5.001, 158.93;

QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 4.038, 310.98 def. Hagan, 4.050, 317.64; C. Force, 4.016, 315.56 def. Johnson Jr., 4.032, 315.71; Hight, 3.997, 322.81 def. Hale, 4.161, 289.38; Worsham, 4.052, 317.42 def. Capps, 4.399, 213.27;

SEMIFINALS — J. Force, 4.005, 316.60 def. Worsham, 4.054, 315.78; C. Force, 3.937, 322.04 def. Hight, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — J. Force, 3.965, 319.45 def. C. Force, 3.963, 314.75.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 7.000, 197.13 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 7.026, 195.62; Allen Johnson, Dart, 7.000, 196.59 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 7.047, 197.74; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.995, 197.22 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 7.054, 195.73; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.945, 198.47 def. Richie Stevens, Dart, 7.033, 195.85; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 15.319, 55.23 was unopposed; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.025, 196.22 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.992, 198.12; Erica Enders, Dart, 6.970, 197.42 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 7.989, 188.31; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.959, 197.94 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 7.049, 195.14;

QUARTERFINALS — Nobile, 7.031, 196.50 def. Laughlin, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.998, 197.25 def. McGaha, 7.020, 196.24; Johnson, 7.000, 196.53 def. Enders, 7.006, 195.62; Line, 6.977, 197.57 def. Butner, 6.979, 197.86; SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.986, 196.42 def. Anderson, 6.968, 197.19; Nobile, 16.014, 52.83 def. Line, Foul – Red Light; FINAL — Johnson, 6.982, 197.39 def. Nobile, 7.037, 196.82.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Cory Reed, Buell, 7.234, 183.49 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.278, 184.09; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.204, 185.89 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.320, 182.26; Chip Ellis, Buell, 15.210, 93.84 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 7.204, 183.49 def. Hector Arana, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.230, 184.09 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.285, 183.82; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 7.234, 184.77 def. Tyler Fisher, Suzuki, 7.284, 182.90; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.213, 184.90 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.370, 179.85; Matt Smith, 7.251, 183.67 def. Angie Smith, 7.314, 180.00;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 7.221, 184.35 def. Sampey, 7.299, 184.35; Tonglet, 7.304, 182.33 def. M.Smith, 16.874, 44.19; Krawiec, 7.245, 184.37 def. Ellis, 7.317, 183.42; Hines, 7.234, 184.77 def. Reed, 12.995, 60.23;

SEMIFINALS — Krawiec, 7.218, 186.23 def. Savoie, 7.227, 184.42; Hines, 7.151, 187.34 def. Tonglet, 7.228, 184.90;

FINAL — Hines, 7.134, 188.33 def. Krawiec, 7.148, 187.21.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 1,145; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 1,088; 3.  Steve Torrence, 982; 4.  Brittany Force, 953; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 916; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 800; 7.  J.R. Todd, 799; 8.  Clay Millican, 681; 9. Richie Crampton, 660; 10.  Leah Pritchett, 553.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,120; 2.  Courtney Force, 998; 3.  Jack Beckman, 976; 4.  Matt Hagan, 881; 5. (tie) Robert Hight, 877; Del Worsham, 877; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 855; 8.  John Force, 821; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 793; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 733.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 1,548; 2.  Greg Anderson, 1,466; 3.  Bo Butner, 955; 4.  Allen Johnson, 885; 5. Vincent Nobile, 758; 6.  Drew Skillman, 753; 7.  Chris McGaha, 661; 8.  Shane Gray, 658; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 613; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 595.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 742; 2.  Andrew Hines, 633; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 534; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 500; 5. Chip Ellis, 386; 6.  Hector Arana, 375; 7.  LE Tonglet, 364; 8.  Matt Smith, 290; 9.  Steve Johnson, 268; 10.  Michael Ray, 262.

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Greaves car, lineup confirmed for FIA WEC’s Mexico City race

MONTEREY, CA - MAY 03:  Bruno Junqueira prepares to drive during practice for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 3, 2014 in Monterey, California.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Junqueira (above) back in action. Photo: Getty Images
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The LMP2 grid will grow by one for the next FIA World Endurance Championship race, the 6 Hours of Mexico City, with the confirmation of the Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S Nissan.

Greaves will run the lineup of Roberto Gonzalez, brother of race promoter and RGR Sport by Morand team owner and co-driver Ricardo Gonzalez, along with Bruno Junqueira and Luis Diaz.

Junqueira and Roberto Gonzalez have been co-drivers in the past with the Rocketsports (RSR) team in the Prototype Challenge class of the American Le Mans Series.

Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images

Diaz (right) is another prototype class veteran, with recent PC experience (8Star Motorsports and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports) added to his LMP2 days with Fernandez Racing.

All three of them also competed in Champ Car World Series races in Mexico City, with Gonzalez and Diaz part of a six-Mexican driver entry in the 2003 race (Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain Jr., Mario Dominguez and Rodolfo Lavin).

Ricardo Gonzalez co-drives the No. 43 RGR Sport Ligier JS P2 Nissan with Bruno Senna and Filipe Albuquerque in the WEC.

Sainz pleased to match McLaren’s pace in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Carlos Sainz of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Spain during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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Carlos Sainz Jr. was pleased with a “solid” performance in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand prix that saw him finish eighth for Toro Rosso.

Sainz spent much of the race in close contention with his childhood racing hero Fernando Alonso, finishing just three seconds behind the McLaren driver at the checkered flag.

The result means that Sainz has scored points in all but one race he has finished in 2016, leading Toro Rosso’s charge in the constructors’ championship.

“[A] solid race again, up to [the] pace of McLarens. Pretty pleased with that,” Sainz told NBCSN after the race.

“Fernando got us at the start and that was about it. Impossible to pass from there and he controlled it.

“But it’s a very solid weekend from the team to close the first half of the season quite well, and we’re pretty happy.”

Toro Rosso is just five points clear of McLaren in the constructors’ championship, but Sainz hopes that a step in performance next weekend in Germany will help him to open up the gap once again.

“We have a step hopefully coming in Germany, and a step forward in performance,” Sainz said.

“McLaren has got ahead of us which is a bit worrying.

“But we will try to compensate that and see if we can hold them back.”

FIA WEC confirms July date for 2017 Nürburgring round

Audi R18 (2016) #7 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer
Audi R18 (2016) #8 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval, Oliver Jarvis
© Audi Sport
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FIA World Endurance Championship officials have confirmed that next year’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring will take place on July 16.

The WEC ventured to the Nürburgring for the first time in 2015 before enjoying a successful return over the weekend, with a crowd of 58,000 fans turning up on Sunday.

During the race won by the no. 1 Porsche crew of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, it was confirmed that the WEC will return to the Nürburgring in 2017 over the July 14-16 weekend.

 

However, it was flagged up on Twitter that this is the same weekend scheduled to host the Formula E double-header in Montreal.

Around two-thirds of the Formula E grid also race in the WEC, with the two championships preventing clashes so that drivers do not have to pick between them. As a result, it seems inevitable that one of the races will have to change date.