LOUDON, NH - AUGUST 13: Sebastian Saavedra of Colombia, driver of the #34 Bogota Es Mundial Conquest Racing Dallara Honda, looks on from the pits during practice for the IZOD IndyCar Series MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on August 13, 2011 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
LEEDS, Ala. - With his spiked hair and aviator sunglasses, Sabastian Saavedra is a rock star amongst his peers in the IndyCar paddock. At just 21 years old, Saavedra has the look, potential, and pedigree to blossom into one of the top stars of Indy car racing. He lacks just one thing - a ride.
Saavedra made his IndyCar Series debut in 2010, at just 19 years old, for Bryan Herta Autosport. He attempted the full schedule a year later with Conquest Racing, with a best finish of 11th at Brazil. Unable to meet the price tag of a new formula, Conquest closed its IndyCar doors, leaving Saavedra scrambling for a seat.
With time (and luck) running against him, Saavedra had to make an important decision - run in the back of the IndyCar field or remain competitive in Lights for Andretti Autosport, a team he drove for in 2009.
Saavedra chose Andretti and was rewarded with the opportunity to compete in the team's fourth entry at the Indianapolis 500. His Indianapolis effort will be engineered by the same team that powered John Andretti to a 30th and 22nd place finish the past two seasons in the Richard Petty-backed no. 43.
But that operation was a one-off, running only one or two ovals a season. Saavedra and engineer Blair Perschbacher will work with each other throughout the full Lights campaign, hopefully running at peak performance by May. With so many makeshift teams attempting to make the enter of 33, familiarity and chemistry could be advantageous.
"It's crucial," Saavedra agreed. "We're getting less and less time on the track each year that it's important to build the relationship before Indianapolis. I'm fortunate to have worked with most of these guys since 2009."
Saavedra will also serve as Andretti's primary IndyCar reserve and test driver. The month of May will not be Saavedra's first laps in an IndyCar.
"Not being able to fall back on being a rookie, I wanted to do something big," Saavedra said. "Andretti Autosport is in a great position to take advantage of the new cars, and awesome Chevrolet engines, and I wanted to be a part of that."
In hindsight, Saavedra admits that he advanced to IndyCar far too quickly. Despite running in his third Indy Lights season, Saavedra is still the youngest driver in the field. He's also the youngest of those expected to attempt the Indianapolis 500. It's that sort of youth that makes it hard for the Columbian to display patience. Yet he's handled the situation with grace - making the most of his sabbatical, reevaluating his career and restocking for 2013.
"We're in a great spot," Saavedra said. "We're going to sit back and watch how the new Indycars and engines play out while doing the best we can in Lights. Meanwhile, we have a great opportunity at Indianapolis and we're looking forward to building a foundation for next year and beyond."