On a conference call yesterday, Jimmy Vasser confirmed that Sebastian Saavedra will be driving the #17 AFS Chevy for KV Racing in the 2014 IndyCar season. Jimmy stated that one of the many positive aspects to this deal is the fact that Saavedra and his teammate Sebastien Bourdais, had already been teamed up together for a year at Dragon Racing in 2013, so they know how to work together and that initial awkwardness of new teammates is out of the way. At one point during the conference, Jimmy stressed the importance of teammate comfort and history – mentioning the pairings of Dixon & Franchitti, the Andretti Autosport drivers (James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti & Ryan Hunter-Reay), and of course not forgetting the duo of himself & Alex Zanardi! Obviously, the connection between teammates is crucial for a successful team & season and sometimes the push they give one another is exactly what makes them so incredible in the long run. Sebastian agreed with this point and when he joined in the call, he started off by saying,
“Yes, it’s very exciting, something we’ve been working for for some time… To be part of this great partnership between AFS and KV, it’s something that makes us proud. Very excited to start the season for me today here in Sonoma. Looking forward to making a very good season ahead of us.”
After the announcement made its rounds on social media, one thing I found quite interesting was the reaction of most fans and even media members. Many seemed unaffected by the news or in some cases, aggravated. Many voiced the opinion that Saavedra has had enough chances with full rides and it’s due time to give one of the many other drivers an opportunity like this – Conor Daly & Oriol Servia are two names that come up a lot. And of course, there was hope from a wide fan base that the “Swiss Missile”, Simona de Silvestro, might come back for a full ride at KV – unfortunately that is not the case. There are still a few seats left without a name for Dale Coyne, Bryan Herta and Rahal Letterman Lanigan, but with Simona working to secure sponsorship back at home & having missed the winter meetings in Indianapolis, it makes me nervous that she hasn’t yet been brought in to test at Sebring or Sonoma.
Jimmy mentioned that KV Racing’s outlook for a third car at the Indy 500 this year was “real good”, explaining that they are in talks with veteran drivers and probably would not consider a rookie, detailing that, “A guy… or a girl… having said that, needs to be able to add to the program at Indianapolis… we need somebody that can lend a hand and is capable of being a protagonist in the race.” As soon as I heard him mention the female option, I thought… it’s got to be Simona, right? I know that would make a lot of people happy and I hope to see it happen if for some reason she doesn’t receive the full ride she deserves in 2014.
In her four years with the IndyCar Series, Simona has shown 12 top-10 finishes, but the note-worthy part of that stat is that 9 of them were last year while behind the wheel of a Chevy-powered DW12! (In comparison, Saavedra has only had 2 top-10 finishes over his 4 years – 2 of which were full seasons – and neither of them were on the podium) Simona however, found herself on the podium for the first time in her IndyCar career, during race #1 of the Houston double header this past October. It is hard to understand how this driver, full of potential and more than capable of holding her own, has not yet been offered a ride this year. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope it happens here in the next couple weeks.
Back-pedaling just a bit, I want to play devil’s advocate to the statement made by Jimmy in regards to putting a rookie behind the wheel of an additional car at the Indianapolis 500. My most recent argument for this is the glaringly obvious powerhouse that is, Carlos Munoz. Andretti Autosport decided to give this Indy Lights driver a shot at handling the yard of bricks this past May. This was going to be his first time in a DW12 as well…. that’s a lot of confidence from Andretti. And boy were they ever right to follow that gut instinct. Munoz qualified AND finished 2nd at the 2013 Indianapolis 500. The story continued throughout the season, ultimately yielding a full-time ride for Munoz with Andretti Autosport for 2014 in their 4th car which was left vacant by E.J. Viso. That story alone goes to show that with rookies, especially with a track as unpredictable as the Brickyard – you just simply never know what might happen.
Oh and in case you need some trivia up your sleeve… there are a couple current drivers who won the Indy 500 during their IndyCar rookie year: Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000 (returning this year as a Team Penske driver) and Helio Castroneves in 2001 (continuing this year with Team Penske). They’re kind of a big deal.
Looking again at the topic at hand with Vasser’s announcement, it seems that regardless of the fan perspective on who “shoulda/coulda/woulda” been the best driver for KV Racing’s second full-season car, Jimmy stands firmly by his decision to sign Saavedra, explaining:
“He went through some hardships… early on in his career at Indianapolis. It takes a lot of mettle to do that. Particularly last year, with qualifying in the Fast Six, really kind of being very competitive if not in qualifying form outpacing Bourdais, which to me was very, very impressive. The speed is there and everybody knows it takes a few years to get comfortable in the series and really start finding your legs so we expect him to really get in the rhythm.”
The continued presence of Sebastian Saavedra in the series this season gives us a total of three full-time drivers from Columbia now that Carlos Munoz is confirmed with Andretti Autosport & Juan Pablo Montoya is returning to the series, this time with Team Penske, as mentioned previously. Jimmy commented that this poises the series for racing in the South American country, even excitedly stating, “Watch out Colombia, we may be coming!”
While we won’t know for some months, what the exact landscape of the 2015 season is for IndyCar, we are truly coming into focus on 2014. So much so that I had to maintain my OWN focus on yesterday’s call, as I was taunted and teased by the background sound every few minutes of IndyCars zipping by on Sonoma Raceway in the midst of testing. They were a blatant reminder to me that these last puzzle pieces of drivers, sponsors and teams are falling into place and the big picture we’ve been anticipating since October is just about complete. I look forward to learning about who will fill those currently vacant driver’s seats and sharing that information with you as timely as possible. I’m not a driver, and I don’t play one on TV, but I certainly do love writing about them, their dedicated & educated fans and this ever-changing close-knit series that ties us all together.