Saavedra Has Mother Of A Day At Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 13 2012

Sebastian Saavedra celebrated Mother's Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with his mom. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Native Colombian Sebastian Saavedra welcomed his mother to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Mother’s Day in “hey, watch this” fashion, posting the fastest speed of Day 2 of practice for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Saavedra, driver of the No. 17 Team AFS Chevrolet for AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport, toured the 2.5-mile IMS oval in 40.6272-seconds and 221.526 mph – fastest lap of the month.

“It’s very special to have my mom here today,” said Saavedra, 21, whose mother made the trip from her native Bogota, Colombia. “All the moms of athletes have to go through a lot supporting us in our careers. They give us good energy. My mom is the best, and it’s beautiful to have her here and sharing that positive attitude.”

Meanwhile, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing rookie teammates Bryan Clauson and Josef Newgarden continued to impress by posting the second and third-fastest laps, respectively, in their Honda-powered Dallaras. Clauson ran 221.173 mph in the No. 39 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/RW Honda while Newgarden hot-lapped at 221.158 mph in his No. 67 SFHR entry.

Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner, was fourth-fastest at 220.829 mph in his No. 9 Dallara/Honda while Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson rounded-out the Fast Five at 220.615 mph in his No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Dallara/Honda.

The Indy 500, race No. 5 of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, is set for for May 27.

Josef Newgarden has been an early-May surprise at Indy. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Newgarden was the only driver to hit 220 mph during Saturday’s Opening Day of practice at 220.250 mph. On Sunday, six drivers cracked the 220 mph barrier with Saavedra’s hottest lap coming in a draft with his Andretti Autosport teammates.

“I have to take the guys out for dinner tonight,” said Saavedra, who started 32nd and finished 23rd in the 2010 Indy 500 for Bryan Herta Autosport but failed to qualify last year with Conquest Racing. “More than anything, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay and Hinch (James Hinchcliffe), who were in the front. It’s exciting. We’ve been struggling the past couple of years, and so starting the Month of May this way, it’s a very satisfying feeling.

“There’s some big strategy at Andretti Autosport; we’re five cars and all of us, we have homework to do every day. 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.”

Rookie Clauson, third-fast on Saturday, celebrated “another great day” at IMS. “It’s been a lot of fun to step into a great situation for myself,” said Sprint Car ace Clauson, who is competing at Indy via INDYCAR’s U.S. Auto Club scholarship. “I’d like to say I was doing an awesome job, but they (SFHR) are making my job a heck of a lot easier with the race cars they put out there. I don’t know what else to say. It’s been a great start to the month, but we have a long way to go. Sometimes speed charts can lie a little bit, but we have a real fast race car. We did some long runs today and I felt like we had a good balance. I’m a rookie, so I don’t know what to expect for the rest of the month, but I’m really confident.”

Newgarden, another graduate of the Firestone Indy Lights program, is proof that SFHR is building a

Sarah Fisher's cars have been making news during the first weekend of practice at Indianapolis. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

competitive program. “Our consistency and speed solidifies the job that they do and how well they go about it,” Newgarden said. “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.”

Andy O’Gara, SFHR’s general manager, said his two rookies are displaying a great degree of maturity and professionalism.

“It’s honestly a great fit for us at SFHR, and both of them come from similar upbringing and backgrounds as Sarah and me,” said O’Gara, who is married to Fisher. “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.

“I think everything is going right along with our game plan here. We’ve kind of played it safe all along. We’ve got a great engineering staff which has been doing their homework on this new car since we left Las Vegas last year. Yeah, we struggled to align ourselves with an engine manufacturer, but that didn’t mean we stopped working. We’ve worked really hard and continue to do so. I think all the simulation stuff we’ve done and all the R&D stuff we’ve done is paying off.”

Practice is scheduled to continue Monday from noon to 6 p.m.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is wearing a helmet dedicated to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, who suffered fatal injuries in a crash during the season-ender at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

“Any Indy 500 helmet is a special one,” said Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Dallara/Chevy for Andretti Autosport. “You cherish them and put them at the top of your

Ryan Hunter-Reay's car is wheeled down Gasoline Alley Sunday at Indy. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

helmet selection. This one has Wheldon after his win last year on one side and the Borg-Warner (Trophy) on the other. It’s a pretty cool helmet, and it will be special to me for many years to come. Dan is the champion. He’s the champion of the race and a great ambassador for our sport. We all miss him. In everything we do to remember him, this is just a small part of it.”

Team-owner Bryan Herta, whose Bryan Herta Autosport won the 2011 Indy 500 with Dan Wheldon, is working through the new Dallara DW12 chassis with Alex Tagliani – last year’s pole-sitter at IMS. Tagliani posted a top speed of 217.116 mph during a stint of 21 laps to stand 21st on Sunday’s speed chart.

“Alex is very comfortable and happy in our car,” said Herta, whose team fielded the Dallara prototype Wheldon extensively tested last summer. “I haven’t heard any negative comments from anybody else. The races so far – the (four) road and street-course races that they have had so far – have been really, really exciting with a lot of passing. The cars seem to race well and I think we’re all waiting to see how it goes this Month of May, hoping that these cars will produce the same kind of excitement on the ovals as they have so far on the road courses.”

In tribute to Wheldon, a native of England, the front wing of Tagliani’s No. 98 Team Barracuda-BHA Dallara/Honda is carrying a Lionheart decal. “Most, or all, of the cars had one on at St. Pete,” said Herta, referring to the season-opener in Wheldon’s adopted Florida hometown. “Obviously, we’re very close with Dan and especially coming back to Indianapolis. So it’s something we’re carrying on our car all year long as a tribute.”

Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indy 500 champion, is helping 47-year-old rookie Jean Alesi gear-up for his oval-racing debut. And maybe plotting his own return to the racetrack?

“These new cars look like a lot of fun,” said Lazier, who logged 16 Indy 500 starts between 1991 and 2008. “And for a race driver it’s really fun to sort-out a new car because there are so many different things you can play with, so it’s hard to watch. It is just too painful for me to watch. When it isn’t painful anymore, then it is probably time (to walk away). But it looks like too much fun and I would just love to be out there driving. Obviously, and at my age (44) I’m still very open to driving a few more years, especially here at Indianapolis because it is such a special place.”

The 1996 Indy 500 was the first edition of the race run following formation of the Indy Racing League and its split with the Championship Auto Racing Teams. Lazier started fifth in the No. 91 Hemelgarn Racing Reynard/Ford Cosworth XB.

Asked specifically if he was looking for a ride this month, Lazier said: “Yeah, sort of. But it is late and there isn’t a lot of equipment. But trust me, if someone is looking for someone to put in a race car, I would love to be the one, that is for sure.”

Meanwhile, Lazier is tutoring Alesi, a 13-year veteran of Formula One, on turning left at IMS without kissing the concrete walls in his Lotus-powered Fan Force United Dallara.”Yes, I am here in an official capacity helping out,” Lazier said. “A friend of mine put this together so I am helping out. But I am also talking to other guys, as well. There just isn’t a lot of equipment floating around. It’s a new year with new cars and new motors, so there isn’t a lot of excess equipment. But you never know; I’m here.”

Bits from the IMS pits: Wade Cunningham has completed the third and final phase of the Rookie Orientation Program. … Former IndyCar Series driver A.J. Foyt IV watched part of the session from his grandfather’s pit area. … Graham Rahal is looking to make his fifth career start in the Indianapolis 500 this month. His father, Bobby Rahal, won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 in his fifth start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” … Indianapolis 500 veteran and team co-owner Sarah Fisher spent her first Mother’s Day as a mom at IMS with her daughter, Zoey Marie, who was born last Sept. 13. … A total of 37 cars are at the Speedway, with 27 passing technical inspection and six in the process. Thirty-one drivers have been on-track to-date, turning 1,138 laps Sunday and 1,831 laps this month. Wade Cunningham turned 58 laps Sunday, most of any driver. There were five cautions for a total of 51 minutes Sunday.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 13 2012
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