Up-and-coming Colombian racer Sebastian Saavedra (left) will have the support of one of his country's most famous auto racing stars, Roberto Guerrero, when he attempts to make his Indianapolis 500 debut aboard the No. 29 William Rast/Bryan Herta Autosport Dallara-Honda.
Guerrero attained legendary status in his homeland after achieving success, first in Europe and then North America, during a career that was highlighted by a pair of CART Indy car race wins and two runner-up finishes in the Indianapolis 500 in 1984 and '87. He was the first driver from the South American nation to compete in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, and later became the first Colombian ever to contest the Indy 500, finishing second and claiming co-Rookie of the Year honors (with Michael Andretti) in 1984.
“I can't even tell you how much I'm looking forward to going back to Indianapolis,” says Guerrero, who now lives with his family in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. “I haven't been back since the last time that I was there myself driving, which was in 2001. I hate going to the racetrack when I don't have something to do and I am not a good spectator, so that's why I didn't go. Now, to go back with a purpose – because I really think I can help Sebastian – you know, I'm really looking forward to it.”
In all, Guerrero garnered a handful of top-five finishes at the fabled Brickyard from 15 starts between 1984 and 2001, and claimed the coveted pole position in 1992. The first man ever to lap at over 230mph, his record four-lap average speed of 232.482mph stood until the track was repaved in 1996. Guerrero also contested 21 Formula 1 races during the 1982 and 1983 seasons after displaying his talents previously in European competition in Formula Ford, Formula 3 and Formula 2.
“I wasn't able to follow his complete career,” says Saavedra, 19, who was only 10 years old when the popular Guerrero contested his final Indy car race, “but as a Colombian I always knew about him. He was the first driver to put Colombia onto the map in racing.
“The first time I met Roberto was actually at Long Beach a few weeks back, and my first impression was admiration. It was very exciting to meet him finally in person, and it's an honor to be able to work with him.”
Guerrero, too, is looking forward to the month ahead, which will begin with the traditional Rookie Orientation Practice on Saturday, May 15.
Sebastian is a very impressive young man, very focused, and I think I'll be able to help him a lot,” says Guerrero. “In all the years of the Indy 500 [dating to 1911], there's only ever been one guy [fellow Colombian Juan Pablo], Montoya, who made it look easy [becoming the first driver since 1966 to win the race as a rookie, in 2000]. Indianapolis is all about the little things, the small details, and having been there so many years, I think will make his learning curve so much smoother.”
In addition to Guerrero, Saavedra will benefit from the experience of another veteran in his camp – race engineer Chris Finch. Finch, from Hoffman Estates, Ill., is most notably recognized for his six-year role as race engineer at Fernandez Racing. He was instrumental in the success of Adrian Fernandez's debut season in the 2004 IndyCar Series which netted three wins and a fifth-place ranking in the championship, and Scott Sharp's 2005 bid which also resulted in a fifth-place finish in the standings and a front-row start and seventh-place finish in the Indianapolis 500.
Finch's most recent Indianapolis 500 bids include engineering Townsend Bell to a 10th-place finish in 2008. Bell also earned the distinction of being the fastest second-day qualifier, securing 12th position on the grid for the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing squad. Last year, Finch served as race engineer for Oriol Servia, who retired with a mechanical problem while running in 10th place for Rahal Letterman Racing. He currently works for Sam Schmidt Motorsports as race engineer for rookie Philip Major in the Firestone Indy Lights Series.
Joining Finch as assistant race engineer will be Brian Page, race engineer for BHA on Stefan Wilson's Indy Lights program, who is quickly amassing an impressive resume. Page, of Indianapolis, Ind., hails from Andretti Green Racing and earned an Aerospace Engineering degree from Embry Riddle University. He is the son of veteran broadcaster Paul Page.
“I am thrilled with the way the program has come together, and delighted that Roberto has agreed to join us this month,” says Herta. “It is truly an honor to have him on board. We want to give Sebastian a strong support system because Indy is like no other track. You can go out and feel you have a good car and two hours later you're scratching your head thinking what happened? Steve [Newey, team co-owner] and I want to provide Sebastian with the best possible situation and having Roberto here alongside Chris and Brian really strengthens our program.”