IndyCar: Saavedra’s pole continues growth to start 2014

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Sebastian Saavedra was asked about the pressure of having the pack of 24 other drivers behind him tomorrow, most of whom have more experience than he does.

The KV/AFS Racing driver responded with a mention of how he’s wiser beyond his years, as this is already his third full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“To be honest, I feel old. I’m 23 years old, but I’ve been here already for three years,” he said. “I feel we are already a big family.

“At this time it’s not the time to try different things. It’s time to keep things the same way, focus on the start. It’s going to be huge, whoever gets a good jump or not. It’s a long straight. Whatever happens with the weather conditions and the wind direction, it’s going to be huge as well.”

Saavedra took a surprise pole position in a rainy qualifying session, but the fact he held it together is a testament to how much he’s improved with a switch to KV this year and grown over the course of just the first four weekends.

A setup gamble helped make the difference when Saavedra laid down the pole lap.

“We definitely were slightly different when it was the wet conditions this morning, trying different combinations,” he said. “At the end, we were pretty close.

“I think we made different aero configurations just trying to see who was going to take the right one. I think that was the main difference.”

In the first three races, Saavedra has posted two decent finishes (11th at St. Petersburg, ninth at Long Beach) and led his first 14 laps. He ranked this pole among his all-time racing highlights, and spoke of his improvement this year in mixing it up with the series leaders.

“I think in my professional career, it’s the top level, the top spot for sure. Definitely this is a point that makes you get addicted to more,” he said.

“The level of competition is almost the same that you no longer see drivers, you just see colors out there. You need to maintain it that way,” he added.

We’ll see if Saavedra can back up his excellent Friday with a career race, as well.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.