TORONTO – Considering he had not raced on a Verizon IndyCar Series street course in more than two years and only learned he would be driving the day before the event weekend began, Sebastian Saavedra put on an exemplary performance to finish 11th Sunday at the Honda Indy Toronto.
The 27-year-old Colombian was called in to drive the No. 7 Lucas Oil Honda when Schmidt Peterson Motorsports decided to sit Mikhail Aleshin, the car’s normal driver, for the weekend. Saavedra slowly worked his way up to speed throughout the practice sessions and logged a steady if unspectacular race.
"I feel like that is a very successful weekend in the books.” said Saavedra, whose last start on a Verizon IndyCar Series temporary street course came in June 2015, also in Toronto. “I'm very appreciative of the whole Schmidt Peterson Motorsports organization for taking me in and just making me feel like I'm home. I felt the same throughout the race and had a pretty solid car.”
Starting 20th in the 21-car field on the 1,786-mile, 11-turn circuit, Saavedra was among the drivers who benefited from pitting early, before a full-course caution caught out six drivers who had yet to stop and were forced to do so after the field packed behind the race car and pit lane was opened for service by INDYCAR.
Saavedra moved into the top 10 at that time – running as high as seventh – and stayed there the rest of the 85-lap race until Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon muscled past him four laps from the end and dropped Saavedra to 11th.
“We kept clean for the first stint, just tried to stay away from trouble, and when I started pushing, the car was there for me,” Saavedra said. “Great strategy from the SPM guys and getting me out of those reds (Firestone alternate tires) and getting me some free time for me to do my thing.
“It paid off perfectly with those yellows, and we managed to get in with the guys up front, which changed the speed of the race for us. We had the car to do it.”
In addition to the lack of seat time prior to race weekend, Saavedra was also learning the Honda aero kit on the fly. On top of that, he had to overcome a malfunctioning drink tube that didn’t have a bite valve to prevent its flow until he needed it. Each time he would accelerate, he said, fluid would flow into his helmet – eventually shorting out his ability to talk to the crew in the pits via team radio.
“The microphone fried so I had no communication to my team,” Saavedra said in pit lane after the race, his face tinted blue from the energy drink that had spilled out. “I could hear them but I could not speak to them.”
Still, it worked out and allowed Saavedra to feel some vindication for the 11th-place finish in his 63rd career Verizon IndyCar Series race. It was his best outing since placing 10th at Long Beach in April 2015.
“There was a lot of questions in my head for this weekend,” said Saavedra, who finished 15th at the Indianapolis 500 in his only other 2017 race, with Juncos Racing. “Of course, the physical side, I was a little bit nervous on how that was going to turn out to be, but I felt very good.
“It always helps to have a good car that keeps under you and allows you to actually battle with everybody around you.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action July 30 with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Live coverage airs at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore telecast at 7 p.m. the same day on NBCSN.
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.