IL: Saavedra claims Toronto pole
11 July 2009
Under-fire Sebastian Saavedra bounced back from penalty and criticism at Watkins Glen to claim his second Firestone Indy Lights pole of the season - and his fifth front-row start - on the streets of Toronto.
The Colombian posted a quickest lap of 1min 04.8311secs - just a tenth off Ed Carpenter's tail-end IndyCar practice time - early in the session in the #27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Inc car to lead the field by nearly three-tenths as he attempts to get his championship challenge back on track as the season moves into its second half.
"It's great, I'm very happy," the St Petersburg polewinner enthused, "We found a set-up and that's what it's about at this track. It's really bumpy, really slippery and you'll never get close to a perfect car. But I'm really happy for my team. They did a terrific job putting the car together, and I'm looking forward to the race. The last two haven't been very lucky, but that's the past. I'm just taking the positives from them. I learned a lot from both of those races, and now I have to be as prepared as possible for tomorrow and get the best result I can."
Local favourite James Hinchcliffe claimed his second front-row start of 2009 after banging in a final lap of 1min 04.8889secs in the best of Sam Schmidt's four cars. The Canadian is one of only four drivers in the Lights field that has previous Exhibition Place experience, having contested the Atlantic Series race there in 2007.
"It was a good day, but it didn't come easy," 'Hinch' admitted, "We struggled a bit at the beginning of the session and then we had a spin in turn three when I went in a little too hard. I was so furious when they brought out that yellow flag because it means that you lose your quickest lap and I knew from there that it would be a bit of an uphill battle.
"But the Sam Schmidt guys gave me a great car, and we were able to put together two laps, almost identical, at P2 speed. So not only was it fast, it was consistent. It's a great way to start."
Hinchcliffe's improvement toppled Vision Racing's James Davison - another to have sampled the course before - from second position, but the Australian maintained his recent upturn in form to line up on the inside of row two. Richard Philippe, the third driver to have tasted Toronto before - the other is points leader JR Hildebrand - will join Davison, while Britain's Stefan Wilson drew on brother Justin's Watkins Glen victory last weekend as he took fifth spot.
"I'm semi-happy with it - it's a lot more competitive here than it was at Watkins Glen," the Walker Racing pilot revealed, "We got the car handling a bit better around this street track, and we were quite quick in practice this morning. We were third and fourth [in the two sessions], so I really thought we could be in the top three [in qualifying]. We were close at one point to getting on the front row - that's where I really wanted to be."
Hildebrand was only sixth fastest in the second AFS/AGR entry, with Ana Beatriz, Daniel Herrington, Gustavo Yacaman and Andrew Prendeville filling the remaining top ten spots on the timesheets. Herrington, however, had his time disallowed after failing the post-qualifying inspection and will start from the back of the field. Wade Cunningham inherits his place in the top ten.
Canadian Motorsports Hall of Famer Brian Stewart, meanwhile, is fielding a car for a race in his home country for the first time in nearly a decade, with Russian Sergey Mokshantsev putting the #3 machine on the back row of the grid.
"If you take the names out of Canada, Brian Stewart is probably one of the best-known Canadian personalities in motorsports, right up there with the names Villeneuve, Tracy and Carpentier," Roger Bailey, executive director of the Firestone Indy Lights series and a friend of Stewarts for more than 20 years, claimed, "And he's certainly one of the best ambassadors of Canadian motor sports."
Ontario native Stewart has run drivers such as Cristiano da Matta, Bryan Herta, Eric Bachelart and Paul Tracy during his long career as a mechanic and team owner.