IndyCar: Saavedra’s best run of year, possibly career, goes begging at Iowa

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The 50th start of Sebastian Saavedra’s Verizon IndyCar Series career nearly produced its best ever result. Unfortunately for the driver of the No. 17 KV/AFS Racing Chevrolet, a slight brush of the wall just before his third pit stop ended his charge in the Iowa Corn Indy 300 presented by DEKALB.

Saavedra matched his car number in qualifying, but marched forward from P17 into the top five by half distance. He made it to third shortly thereafter, but then got in the marbles in Turn 2 and needed to bring the car in for repairs.

It was a hairy exit as Saavedra nearly collected Ryan Briscoe as he moved down the back straight into pit in. An accident there was averted and Saavedra made it into the pit lane, although he’d lose seven laps under caution. Mechanical issues ended his race for good on Lap 258 in the same place he started… 17th.

“Very hard to describe how disappointed I am,” Saavedra said post-race. “This was our day, we had a car that I connected very well with. We were very loose from the beginning but I loved it and I was driving where I needed to drive it. Unfortunately at the end of the third stint, everyone was struggling with grip and my rear tires were extremely worn and I just couldn’t save this ‘moment’ and it ended our day.”

The 24-year-old Colombian was introspective as well, and mature in taking responsibility for the mistake.

“Last night’s result doesn’t show how good a car we had,” he said. “I want to apologize to everyone who believed in me today, we had this race and I take full responsibility. We have shown that we can do and that we belong at the front, so we will keep digging and head to Toronto next weekend.”

Saavedra has been a weird driver to pinpoint this year. Two results of 11th and ninth out of the gate showed good promise and he ranked in the top-10 in points.

But since then, it’s been myriad struggles. Saavedra scored the Grand Prix of Indianapolis pole before his race there ended in disaster following his stall on the grid. In the last 10 races, Saavedra has yet to finish better than 14th, and ranks only ahead of the equally luckless Takuma Sato among full-time drivers in points (Saavedra is 20th, Sato 21st).

Again, as was the case in 2013, the flashes are there for the likable Colombian. But he’s been a bit overshadowed this year by his three countrymen; Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Huertas are race winners, and Carlos Munoz has made multiple podium visits.

Saavedra’s best chance yet to join that trio in earning his own round of good headlines – and praise – went begging Saturday night at Iowa Speedway.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds