By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
The pressure was on Sebastian Saavedra.
His part time Verizon IndyCar Series drive for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was coming to an end after Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park and the Colombian qualified 21st out of 21 cars.
His crew stayed until midnight to make massive setup changes and it worked, resulting in an 11th place finish.
“It was fine because I still didn’t know the place,” Saavedra said.
“I felt like those first 20 laps I was still learning how to go around here. We did amazing changes overnight, these guys stayed until midnight just trying to figure out what was the best direction to take, we completely nailed it.
“From then on it was just a steady pace to the front, good passes, a little crazy out there for sure so taking advantage of somebody else’s mistakes paid off, good pit stops as we showed in the pit stop competition also helped out so all together a very satisfactory night.”
Earlier in the race, Saavedra had a tight moment with a couple of drivers going around him at the same time in Turn 2. His onboard showed him sawing at the wheel as Sebastien Bourdais squeezed Saavedra in Turn 2.
“I had a couple of moments with Bourdais, I don’t know if he didn’t see me,” said Saavedra. “It’s very hard around here without the lines, you don’t know what line to maintain yourself. I blame it more on that side, he’s a very clean racer but he put me on the apron and that almost ended our race, a couple of times like that it did happen but our mentality, we knew that we had the car, it was just a matter of taking it one by one which we did.”
Starting last and with the Penske quartet (trio after Will Power’s incident) up front, expectations were probably not high for a Honda package that is disadvantaged on short ovals. However, Saavedra’s team went above even what they thought they would.
“I would say we exceeded our expectations, to be honest,” Saavedra said. “Being a place that I’ve never been and the short period of time that we had to adapt and where we qualified and where we ended the practice it wasn’t looking good.”
“I’m very happy for (teammate James) Hinchcliffe on his eighth place, a couple of spots behind him for me which is very important to show the commitment that we as drivers have.
“I wish we could do this all over again and the race was tomorrow so I know how to do it, but I cannot say kudos enough to the guys of the No. 7 crew and the whole SPM organization for the hard work they put over the night to put the quality car that we showed out there.”