Toronto veteran Sebastian Saavedra has been called up to replace Mikhail Aleshin in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda this weekend, a surprise driver change ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, CNBC).
In a statement, the team said Aleshin would be on site for support but would not provide any further comment at this time. The No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda will also feature AFS Racing branding and support, owing to Saavedra’s longtime supporter Gary Peterson.
“We welcome the opportunity to compete with Ric and Sam at a venue where Seb and I have had great success in the past,” Peterson said in the statement.
Aleshin was delayed getting to the last road course race at Road America last month owing to immigration issues, and Robert Wickens filled in for him in the Friday practice sessions. But Aleshin’s return occurred as of Saturday morning for that race, and for Iowa Speedway last weekend.
Saavedra, meanwhile, has one prior start this year with Juncos Racing in partnership with AFS at the Indianapolis 500. He’s also worked with the No. 7 car’s engineer, Blair Perschbacher, previously in his IndyCar career.
At Toronto, Saavedra has six past IndyCar starts from 2011 through 2015, with Conquest Racing, Dragon Racing, KV/AFS Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing. His best finish is 15th in Toronto race two, 2013.
Saavedra also has three starts there in Indy Lights competition. He won from pole for AFS/Andretti Autosport in 2009 and finished second with the same team in 2012.
SPM joins Bryan Herta Autosport, Conquest, Andretti, Dragon, KV, Ganassi and Juncos as teams Saavedra, who’s still only 27, has driven with in his career.
Interestingly, Wickens was available as there’s no DTM race this weekend and the Guelph, Ontario native was home – posting training video from a lake in Muskoka on Wednesday on his Instagram page.
Keen-eyed observers will have noticed Aleshin’s car having switched from the full SMP Racing red, white and blue livery in the past, to a red and black Lucas Oil and ARROW livery this year for Aleshin’s car.
The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.
The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.
GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.
The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.
Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.
Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.
A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.
“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.
Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.
“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”
“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are. This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”
Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.
“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery. There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.
“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to. They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant. I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”
JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.
Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.