DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Sebastian Saavedra was behind the wheel Sunday during a downpour when his car spun and hit the wall. Instead of ending in disaster, it ended in triumph.
Two reasons: First, his closest competitor was laps behind. Second, a red flag waved shortly after the crash, and the race never restarted.
As a result, Saavedra (at left in photo above) and teammates Ryan Cullen, Roberto Gonzalez and Pastor Maldonado celebrated victory in the LMP2 class in a Rolex 24 At Daytona endurance sports car race that ended early because of rain 10 minutes short of the 24-hour mark.
“When I jumped into the car, I saw the conditions were pretty detrimental,” said Saavedra, a veteran of 65 NTT IndyCar Series races with eight teams since 2010. “Not only was it not going to be easy, but it was already getting to the stage that we should not be running out there. When I did put it into the wall, it was already in my mind that, yes, we had four laps to second place, but this could be it.”
Last month, team principal Elton Julian announced that DragonSpeed and driver Ben Hanley will enter five NTT IndyCar Series races in 2019, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26. Hanley was one of four drivers teaming on the other DragonSpeed ORECA, which finished third in LMP2 and 15th overall.
For nearly two hours Sunday morning, the race went green under extremely difficult conditions.
“Every single lap there was a new puddle,” Saavedra said. “Every single lap there was something new that factored into survival. When (the crash) happened, of course the first thing I was thinking was that I let down this amazing group of people and this amazing crew.”
Since the red flag to stop racing came out shortly after Saavedra’s incident, he finished four laps ahead of the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports LMP2 that included former Indy Pro 2000 driver Kris Wright among its drivers.
The victory was Saavedra’s first in the top levels of professional racing. He won four races and six pole positions during three seasons in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the top rung of the Road to Indy ladder. In 2014, he won the NTT IndyCar Series pole for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Last year, Saavedra competed in 10 of 12 races in the LMP2 class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
For a moment Sunday, Saavedra wasn’t sure if he’d be celebrating.
“We were able to come back,” Saavedra said. “I did not expect it to go red. I think that was our saving moment.”