Photo Credit: indycaraldia.blogspot.com
We recently had the pleasure of doing a question and answer session with 4-time Indy Lights race winner, 16-time Indy Lights podium finisher, and the Inaugural (2014) Grand Prix of Indianapolis polesitter Sebastian Saavedra.
The replies given by Sebastian Saavedra were recorded in an audio file, and I have typed them up below. Thank you Sebastian for taking the time to answer these questions!
On game days, NFL players get hit time and time again, and are always sore the day after due to the constant forces and impacts they are withstanding over a 2-3 hour time span. Being an IndyCar driver and experiencing forces far greater than those experienced by NFL players for longer period of time, what is it like on your body to not only be sore after a hard crash, but after driving a race on an extremely rough, bumpy street course like Long Beach or Belle Isle?
I see some of your questions, you begin with quite an interesting one with soreness. How sore NFL players are after their big games, while on our side, we are withstanding quite the G forces and vibrations, and even sound itself generates soreness in your brain and your ears, so it’s quite a different experience when you talk about sports and NFL or Indycar racing. Places such as Long Beach, or Belle Isle, or even St. Petersburg are quite bumpy, and you feel it a lot in your back and in your bones for the next couple of days just because of a lot of compressions. So, it’s been seen in that past, lots of compression fractures due to the jumps that we sometimes take because we’re so tight with our seat belts. We absorb these jumps and these bumps a lot more than a normal ride in any car.
In past years, how did you block out the fact that the Indianapolis 500 is the greatest race in the world and get in the car, calm yourself down, and drive? There must be a lot of nerves involved.
On your second question, you talk about the greatest spectacle in the world and how we manage to accept it and kind of cool ourselves. It’s a process, definitely the more opportunities you get around this amazing place, the more you get to understand that you can focus on the right things. Definitely the first time was not easy. Back in 2010, I remember that I could only see the people and I could only feel the crowd because you feel it, and that’s the beauty around this amazing place, that it almost moves as a whole. You have over 300,000 people cheering for you and cheering for the spectacle itself, it’s hard to concentrate. But you get the handle of it and to the point that you’re so focused that you feel like there’s nobody around you, it’s just the machine and yourself and of course having everything in play, you are just focusing on every single movement of the air, focusing on such things as even the slightest movement of your car, front, middle, rear, and this is something that you take your time, so you see somebody like TK (Tony Kanaan) after 12 times, he doesn’t even think anymore. But, definitely the first ones are the hard ones.
How did you get into racing itself and how did that lead you to become an IndyCar driver? Also, what would you want to be if you could not be an IndyCar driver?
Well, it all began in Colombia. It went from being in the go karts, an uncle of mine gave me a go-kart for my birthday, my 7th birthday, and I was quite active, I loved sports, I was in hockey, soccer, which you know of course is huge in South America, volleyball, and basketball. But as soon as I jumped into a kart, everything changed, you know, I was so into this world that nothing could touch me, the speed, even though I started in a small 80 CC engine, I could feel almost invincible, and I think that feeling is in me until right now. When I’m inside a car, it’s my own world. It’s something I can control. Sometimes in different sports, it’s a team effort of many players doing everything. Over here, it’s a team effort of engineers, of mechanics, but at the end, it’s also you against 20 other guys, and that’s what makes it even more interesting.
Now that you have recently only been in the IndyCar series part-time and unfortunately could not put a deal together for Indy this year, are you spending time driving other cars somewhere else in the world? If so, what are they, and if not, do you plan on racing anywhere professionally or even coming back to IndyCar full-time?
Nowadays, you try to focus on what’s best for your career. I definitely saw the opportunity of being a full-time series driver on a competitive team. It was not going to happen until some of these guys will retire, and I started taking the decision of doing the one-offs, and I saw that it was a lot more beneficial to myself, to my sponsors, and also to my career just to be able to be with the higher teams like Ganassi. I did last year, so I was able to learn a lot more and be a part of something a lot more majestic, and with this, it just gave me the opportunity to focus on what I wanted and that’s to win a championship, and definitely if you’re not with the top teams, the chances are a lot lower, that’s a reality, so that’s what I focus on. I’m still focusing on continuing in the series. I do want to maintain myself busy on a different series. There’s a couple of things that you’ll see in the next couple days come out, but anything that has wheels and a big engine, I’m a big fan, so you’ll see my around, so it’s not the first time that I stepped out, but Indycar is my passion, it’s something that as soon as I came to America back in 2008, it’s where I felt the most comfortable and where I want my career to continue.
One of the first things you are supposed to do when your IndyCar spins is let go of the wheel, to prevent damage to your hands like we saw with Charlie Kimball in 2012 at Mid-Ohio. How hard is it as a driver, in that split second that you start to spin, to tell yourself and give yourself faith that you NEED to let go when you’re in an uncontrollable machine traveling at speeds of over 200 miles per hour, about to make contact with a wall? As a fan, it would seem like that letting go is easier said than done. Is it?
You talk about quite an interesting question on letting your hands go, or letting the steering wheel go when you’re spinning out of control. This is something that you learn quite early in your open-wheel career. It’s something that, as you say, is not easy to do. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is. This is another thing that with the time and with the crashes, you’ll start understanding why, and because us as drivers, we tend to be in control at all times, and whenever we lose control, we think even until the last thousandth of a second, that we can get it back. To accept that you are out of control is something that you are almost genetically made to not accept, but with some hits, and sometimes some broken bones as you described with Charlie Kimball, you come to a realization that this specific car does not allow the situation, and mostly to let go. I learned it in 2010, in a big crash qualifying for the Indy 500, which you might remember. I qualified in the hospital, lost the car in turn 1, and my first reaction was to move forward, just because I was going to hit very hard on the back end first, and the impact was quite hard, putting all that energy transfer into my neck, into my head, and into my hands. I was very lucky to come out of that one, but I am still feeling it until today. That same night, almost, Dario Franchitti told me “Brother, the first thing you learn to do is stop breathing for a little bit, and just release all your breath at once when you know you’re going to hit, because the first thing you’re going to feel is that your air is going to go out, which I did, and it took me some time to realize this.
What are some of the highlights of your IndyCar career, and what are some of your scariest moments?
I have been quite lucky to be a part of many events, you know, being a part of the 2012 winning championship with Andretti, and back again last year with the winning of Chip Ganassi Racing with Scott (Dixon). But, of course, having that pole position at Indy in the inaugural race of the Grand Prix was one of my highest highlights, but as well, as you ask, also one of my scariest moments, when we had a computer failure…and you saw the rest*. But, I mostly remember of the good ones. I also remember the many races I being in leading, or even contending, but at the same time it’s just the motivation to continue building something stronger, and continue being part of an amazing series that has a lot of ways to go.
*The No. 17 AFS Racing car piloted by Saavedra failed to start during a standing start on the front row, and cars that started behind the No. 17 car had to swerve to get around it. The No. 34 car, driven by Carlos Munoz, crashed into the side of the car, and then the No. 7 car, driven by Mikhail Aleshin, smashed into the back of Saavedra’s car. You can watch the start of that race here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH0MVeCzIOo.
-Asher Fair, SportsPress CEO