Indy 500: Saavedra leads Sunday practice
14 May 2012
Sebastian Saavedra was delighted to be back in action in an IndyCar for the first time since the Baltimore Grand Prix in 2011, and demonstrated his enthusiasm on just his second day of practice for the Indianapolis 500 by topping the Sunday timesheets with a lap of 221.526mph (40.6272s).
"Starting the month of May this way, it's a very satisfying feeling," he admitted at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Saavedra returned to the Firestone Indy Lights series after failing to get a full time ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and the step back seems to be working well for him - he's currently the points leader in the Indy Lights championship. In addition, he's the official test and reserve driver for Andretti Autosport's IndyCar operation, and very proud of it as well.
"There's some big strategy at Andretti Autosport, and we're five cars and all of us, we have homework to do every day," he said. "We have things to try, and we sit down all together to see what works, what we need to try for the next day, but everything is a big strategy. Everything needs to be very well established. It's the professional way to do it."
Not far behind Saavedra are Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing rookie duo Bryan Clauson and Josef Newgarden, who also featured strongly on Indy 500 Opening Day as well.
"Finishing second and third today shows how competitive SFHR is," said Newgarden. "We're learning a lot more having a second car here, and it's really elevated the program overall. I feel super-comfortable in the car because the team makes me feel comfortable. They've done a great job of giving us a good program and making it easy on us."
"If you had told me that we were going to come out here the first two days and top the speed charts, I would have told you that you were crazy," added Clauson. "Another great day for us - these SFHR boys build fast Honda race cars!"
SFHR's general manager Andy O'Gara was finding it a real bonus to work with two two motivated and talented newbies.
"It's honestly a great fit for us at SFHR," he said. "Both of them come from similar upbringing and backgrounds as Sarah and me. Both of them work really well together. They work extremely well with the engineering staff, and they give it 110 percent, even outside the race car whether it be nutrition, working out, simulations, listening to driver coaches, spending the time with the engineers. It's a full-package deal and they've certainly brought everything to the table."
Behind the top three, series veterans Scott Dixon, Justin Wilson and Ryan Hunter-Reay also all managed to top the 220mph mark on Sunday.
"Just making sure all the systems are working and everything's okay," said Dixon. "My first couple of timed laps, the car seemed nice. It's nice to drive. We're on the same set of tyres. It seems there are a few more cars running more laps and doing a little more race stuff yet. We'll probably step into that the next couple of days."
"This car is working well - ours definitely seems to be very tunable, it feels very much like last year's car," said a slightly surprised-sounding Wilson. Obviously, everyone is nervous; it's a new car. You're not sure what to expect. We had last year's car for eight years, and I think they started out at the 218 range and got up to 228 when we were finished. It just takes time to work out the details and fine-tune it. I think the speeds are going to be just fine in qualifying."
With six cars already topping 220mph this early in the week of practice at Indianapolis, it seemed that the series organisers' announcement of an extra 1.5 PSI of turbo boost for Fast Friday, Pole Day and Bump Day might not have been necessary after all.
"I don't think it's going to change it beyond what we can't adjust for," said Fisher when asked how she felt the planned turbo boost would affect her drivers later this week. "I think they have a good comprehension of what changes it's going to make and be able to anticipate that, sort of like what we anticipated yesterday with a new car and a new situation with the aero package.
"As long as you're prepared, that's the biggest part of showing up," she added.
IZOD IndyCar Series vice president of technology Will Phillips explained that the extra turbo boost was to make sure the fans were satisfied with what they saw next weekend.
"Indy isn't just about the race, qualifying is also a big show as well," he said. "It adds work to the teams, they have to prepare for two different things [but] I think it's a good story from a PR perspective because it's something that wasn't different before."
But Phillips ruled out allowing the boost to remain for the race itself.
"I think there's concern at this stage, the original engine regs were meant to be at 130 KpA. I don't know whether they would last probably the most strenuous duty cycle that they'll see at more than that yet. We just don't know," he told SPEED.com.
The teams had a full six hours of practice available to them on Sunday, after some threatened showed failed to materialise. 31 drivers took part and turned a total of 1138 laps on the day with Wade Cunningham putting in the most track time as he successfully completed the third and final phase of his Rookie Orientation program.
There were five cautions for a total of 51 minutes during the session, for routine debris clearance and track inspection.