It wasn’t long ago that AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport was the team to beat in Firestone Indy Lights.
JR Hildebrand had four wins and five pole positions en route to the 2009 championship for the team, and the previous season Raphael Matos took the title. After watching Sam Schmidt Motorsports take the titles in 2010 and 2011, Sebastian Saavedra has a chance to put the partnership of AFS Racing and Andretti Autosport at the top again.
After spending most of 2011 with Conquest Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Saavedra returned to Firestone Indy Lights with AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport as the full-time driver of the No. 27 car and the team’s official test and reserve driver for its IZOD IndyCar Series program.
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He jumped out to a strong start with three consecutive podium finishes and a win at Barber Motorsports Park. He’s currently second in the standings, 27 points behind Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Esteban Guerrieri, heading into the Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres in Quebec this weekend.
“It's been a very consistent season for the No. 27 AFS/AA car,” Saavedra said. “I knew it wasn't going to be an easy championship with the Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars being as strong as they've been the last couple years. I've never stopped giving my 100 percent out there.”
Guerrieri won the rain-soaked race in 2011, leading from flag-to-flag and setting the outright lap record at 58.5076 seconds in qualifying.
Saavedra missed last season’s event while competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series, so this will be his first time competing at Trois Rivieres. However, data from his team and word from fellow drivers has him prepared for the 60-lap race.
“As with most street courses, it is a bumpy place with lots of walls,” Saavedra said. “People describe it as a faster Toronto. By this, I can already understand that a fast time will come from taking risks and getting very close to the walls. Around a street course, the walls are the driver's worst enemies, and it's very easy to make a mistake and end your day early. Precision and knowing your limits are important keys to having a successful weekend.”
With some ground to make up to catch Guerrieri, plus the pressure of a one-point difference between him and third place Tristan Vautier, Saavedra will have his hands full on the 1.53-mile temporary street circuit. But with the confidence of an experienced driver and backing from a team that has been to the top before, the goal is clear.
“I want to bring back the AFS/AA glory years after winning in ’08 and ‘09,” he said. “It's of great importance to the bosses to bring a championship home, as it is great motivation for the whole Andretti Autosport family.”
The Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network on Aug. 16 at 5 p.m. (ET).