Was Saavedra The Best Pick For Conquest?

I don’t generally think of myself as a curmudgeon. I always felt as if I never belonged to the “Legions of the Miserable”; you know – the ones that sit around and bemoan the demise of the roadsters and the Offenhauser. Then there are those that lament the fact that Champ Car is no more. Thrown somewhere in that mix are those that hate Dario Franchitti because he’s foreign and now has long hair. Although I’m an incurable traditionalist, I don’t feel that I’m aligned with any of those.

The old fogy that inhabits this body came out on Monday, however, when it was confirmed that Sebastian Saavedra had landed a full-time ride at Conquest Racing. I’ll be blunt. I’m not a fan of Saavedra.

The twenty year-old from Colombia has done little as a driver to impress me. Yes, he finished third in the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights championship while driving for AGR-AFS Racing. I’ll throw out my usual disclaimer that I’m not an expert on Indy Lights – mainly because the history has been that success in that series has almost guaranteed a lack of success in the IZOD IndyCar Series. I know many will disagree with that statement, but they will be hard-pressed to prove me wrong. A look back at the champions over the last decade is a proverbial “Where are they now?” trivia contest. AJ Foyt IV tops a forgettable list that also includes Mark Taylor, Thiago Medieros, Wade Cunningham, Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd & Rafa Matos.

Saavedra had a rather eventful May last year at the Indianapolis 500, driving for his Indy Lights team owner Bryan Herta. He was on the bubble when he crashed his car late Sunday afternoon. With no time to repair his car, he was on his way to the hospital when Tony Kanaan bumped him. Through a comical series of missteps by other teams and drivers withdrawing their cars and failing to get back in, Saavedra found himself back in the race when the gun went off. His race was forgettable. He went down a lap early on and crashed on lap 159, finishing twenty-third.

Although he was not impressive, it was a typical rookie drive. Then again, he was only nineteen at the time. But it was his actions that took place a few months later that made me angry.

At the next to last race of the season at Kentucky, in the middle of a race weekend – Saavedra abruptly announced he was quitting Bryan Herta Autosport. He claimed that the team was in breach of contract by supplying a car that wasn’t capable of being competitive and failing to meet standards.

Granted, Bryan Herta Autosport was not on the same level as AGR-AFS Racing, but did he not know that when he signed the contract? It was a fledgling team struggling to make ends meet. Then this kid with a year and a half experience under his belt tells them that they don’t know what they’re doing. The team was good enough to put him in Victory Lane at Iowa in June, but in September they weren’t up to his standards.

This is where I show my age. I am of the mindset that if you sign a contract, you stick it out and honor it. I don’t like football players that hold out. When the Titans drafted Chris Johnson in the first round in 2008, he signed a deal that was compatible for a late first-rounder. When he rushed for over two thousand yards in 2009, he made it known that he would hold out for 2010 (when he vowed to rush for 2500 yards). He used Twitter to plead his case. The Titans were offering to up his salary slightly, but they weren’t willing to blow up his current deal in case he was a one-year wonder. When his agent finally convinced Johnson that he had no case, he reluctantly returned to camp. For 2010, Johnson rushed for 1,300 yards.

Although I’m glad to have his talents on our team, I am no longer a Chris Johnson fan. Holding the team hostage is a bad ploy. It creates turmoil and animosity and usually nothing good comes out of it for either side. I am also not a fan of Vince Young – the soon-to-be ex-Titans quarterback who considers himself to be one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and holds himself above the rest of the team. Saavedra’s actions last September remind me of the antics of Vince Young.

While such things are fairly commonplace in the NFL, they are not all that common in racing. Rumors swirled after Saavedra bailed on Bryan Herta. Some of the rumors made sense, while others sounded like something from the National Enquirer. Whatever the case was, he quit on his team and he was portrayed, at best, as an immature and selfish prima donna. Quite honestly, I thought he had committed professional suicide and would never drive an IndyCar ever again.

Enter Eric Bachelart, owner of Conquest Racing. Saavedra actually drove for Conquest in the season finale at Homestead. I’ll admit, I’ve questioned some of the decisions that Eric Bachelart has made as an owner. When he was a driver, I was actually somewhat of a fan. When he failed to qualify for the 1993 Indianapolis 500, it was in a car he had dubbed the Marmon Wasp II. It was painted in a garish livery similar to the original Marmon and also carried the number 32. Who couldn’t like that? Yes, he drove for Dale Coyne for most of his career – but I always wondered how he would perform in good equipment. As an owner, he has made some odd choices. I’ll never forget 2009, when Bachelart gambled and lost that no one would top the time of his driver, Alex Tagliani. He sat passively and watched as Ryan Hunter-Reay bumped his driver from the field at the last minute. In post-qualifying interviews, Bachelart appeared dumbfounded. He came across as if he didn’t really understand the qualifying rules.

His low budget team has fared well at times. Bertrand Baguette worked wonders with that team last season. Why he hasn’t been retained for that seat is beyond me, but it is consistent with most of Bachelart’s decisions. Paul Tracy and Pippa Mann are in talks for the second car at Conquest, but who knows where either of those storylines will lead? In my opinion, they both would have been better choices. Most know that I am not a Paul Tracy fan, so that tells you where I stand on Saavedra.

So now Bachelart is teaming up with Sebastian Saavedra full-time for 2011. The press releases claim that Conquest was very impressed with him in pre-season testing. Am I missing something? What is there about this guy that screams that he is a "can’t miss" prospect? I’ll go out on a limb right now by predicting that this will not end well. I can see a public feud that will probably end up in court. If Saavedra thought Bryan Herta’s team wasn’t up to his high standards, does he really think he is going to be happy in a Conquest car? Does his youth tell him that Bachelart only needed a driver as good as he is and that none of the other drivers knew what they were doing? I think Saavedra is in for a rude awakening this season.

I would like to see Eric Bachelart and Conquest Racing succeed. Most of us cheer for the underdog. There is probably no bigger underdog in the IZOD IndyCar Series than Eric Bachelart. Although I question some of his choices, he has done a lot with very little. Conquest may be the most underfunded full-time team on the grid. But I really have to question Bachelart’s judgment in hiring a very young driver who already has a history of being a quitter. Good luck to all involved. I think they are going to need it.

George Phillips

21 Responses to “Was Saavedra The Best Pick For Conquest?”

  1. Well Stated! (Except for not being a Paul Tracy fan…) If were a team owner, the Herta episode with Saavedra would have taken him completely out of picture. For Conquest, I think a veteran like Tracy would have been a first choice followed by a driver like Mann who proved herself through a trying time last year. Looking at how she conducted herself compared to how Saavedra conducted himself – easy decision.

  2. Perhaps Conquest is just swinging for the fences and hoping for Montoya 2. It’s not like 19 year olds never make a stupid mistake. I think it’s a reasonable pick.

    On the Chris Johnson side of things. I cannot resist commenting. Chris Johnson would have been stupid to play last year under his rookie contract. The average NFL carear for a tailback is like 3-5 years. He outperformed his current deal. NFL contracts are not guaranteed. He could be cut on a whim and not get what he signed for. The only leverage a player has is to not play. It’s a one way street. Hopfully the players come out of the lockout with guaranteed contracts. If they were, then I agree with your sentiment about honoring a contract. It has to be a two way street.

  3. Jason McVeigh Says:

    Got to agree with the first comment. PT should have got this ride, infact, almost anyone deserves it more than Saavedra. And that’s an excellent point, while Seb was acting like a baby and bailing on teams, Pippa Mann won the same number of races whilst battling injuries from big shunts and did it all with dignity and class. Poor move Conquest.

  4. Money.

    • Mike Rice Says:

      As usual, redd sums it up succinctly. It’s money that made it happen (obviously), and I still lament the sad reality/fact all these years later that the sport has devolved to this. That’s why PT isn’t in the car. That’s why Servia sat out last year, along with Paul. That’s why Buddy Rice is gone. That’s why we have Saavedra and Milka and any other number of who-shot-Jake(s) driving these things.

  5. Christopher Leone Says:

    Maybe I’m biased here, but I did an interview with Saavedra late last year in the wake of the BHA thing and, honestly, a lot of my questions were answered. It’s not him, it’s really not, it’s the fact that a lot of the decisions are made by his management, including the BHA decision (which, in fact, I’m pretty sure his father had more to do with than him). The answers he gave seemed reflective of a driver who wasn’t the one that made that final call. He had nothing but nice things to say about BHA.

    Now, I know, that seems shifty or at least contradictory, but keep in mind this is a 20 year old kid with all the pressure of driving in America’s top open wheel racing series on his shoulders. Who here wouldn’t be prone to mistakes, regrets, mishandlings? The point is, Saavedra is fast enough to merit an IndyCar drive, and he has the money behind him that Conquest needs. Will they light the world on fire? No. Does Conquest have a chance of being a Minardi-like team here and pushing him to the next level? Yes.

    Although I do hope that Tracy and Pippa both get shots with the team, maybe splitting the second car. (Even with the money I don’t know how well they’d handle three.)

  6. The Lapper Says:

    I am going out on a limb here, but Conquest should talk with Wheldon. I know, I am out on a limb here. By the way, I would think that being with Herta would be an excellent place for a rookie. Grow with a guy who knows how to set up a car and who works as hard as anyone in the business. Herta, in my opinion, would be a great place to call home.

  7. He would have been better sticking with Bertrand Baguette.

    I’m not a Saavedra fan, either. Just can’t cheer for the guy.

    • I agree. I’m very surprised/upset that he didn’t retain Bags. Conquest finally had a driver, young and clearly talented, with sponsorship (from the Belgium Auto whatever-Society)

  8. “I’ll throw out my usual disclaimer that I’m not an expert on Indy Lights – mainly because the history has been that success in that series has almost guaranteed a lack of success in the IZOD IndyCar Series. I know many will disagree with that statement, but they will be hard-pressed to prove me wrong. A look back at the champions over the last decade is a proverbial ‘Where are they now?’ trivia contest.”

    George, that’s not the right question. It’s “where did the front-runners over the last decade come from?” Tracy did Indy Lights from 1988 to 1990. De Ferran did British F3 in 1991 and 1992 and the International F3000 in 1993 and 1994. Junqueira did South American F3 from 1994 to 1997 and the International F3000 from 1998 to 2000. Dario did British F3 in 1994 and German touring car in 1995 and 1996. Hélio and Kanaan did two years of Indy Lights in 1996 and 1997.

    Dixon did two years of Indy Lights in 1999 and 2000. Sam Hornish Jr did Atlantics in 1999. Wheldon did Atlantics in 2000 and Indy Lights in 2001. Scott Sharp did sports cars at the SCCA. Briscoe did International F3000 and German F3 in 2002 and F3 Euroseries in 2003. Justin Wilson did International F3000 in 1999 to 2001 and World Series by Renault in 2002.

    Now, where did the best current young IndyCar drivers? Hunter-Reay did Atlantics in 2002. Marco Andretti did Star Mazda and Indy Lights in 2005. Rahal did Star Mazda in 2005 and Atlantics in 2006.

    So those who didn’t race in Europe did Atlantics or Indy Lights. That refcent Indy Lights frontrunners fae bad at IndyCar means that old guys keep being great, not that Indy Lights graduates are bad.

  9. Robby Gordon got in a fight with Kevin Conway a couple weeks ago… and I wouldn’t blame Herta at all if he gave Saadavra the Kevin Conway treatment sometime this year. To dump a team on RACE DAY is ridiculous, as is going on IMS radio and saying after a crash that was NOT his former teams fault, that the crash justified him leaving the team. Honestly Saadavera doesn’t deserve a Grand Am GT car, much less an Indycar. Luckily, if he thought Herta was uncompetitive… he’ll have lot’s of fun with Conquest. I’m betting he walks before years end.

    • Br!an McKay Says:

      I agree with you. I thought last year that SS was a petulant young a-hole who’s NOT likely to have an illustrious, Castroneves-like racing career.

  10. As long as Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan are still drawing breath and unemployed, there are at least two better choices for ANY seat. Unless something big shakes out, the second day of qualifying at Indy is gonna be a BLAST!

  11. Honestly? HORRIBLE choice!! Pippa, Mario Moraes, Rafa Matos would have been far better choices. They are at least team players who don’t quit, or have their Daddy quit for them. All three have the potential to become great racers and are very marketable. What company would want someone who dumps their team on race day to represent their product?

    Bad decision.

  12. Saavedra being in a Conquest seat is completely driven by money. The reason Pippa and PT aren’t in a seat there? The money to run. Last year when Romancini left is was because his money ran out. Baguette isn’t there right now because he doesn’t have the financial backing. Dracone would have never been in the car those couple races if he wouldn’t have had a big check. And to whoever said that Conquest should talk to Wheldon- really?! Wheldon isn’t going to pay for a ride, he wants paid to be in the car.

  13. Savage Henry Says:

    Baggy had some impressive drives in that Conquest car last year. I thought that he showed potential. So to be fair to Saavedra let’s say that Baggy set the bar for Saavedra. If Saavedra is a backmarker all year then this problem solves itself – he’s heading home after his money runs out. If he matches Baggy or betters him, then maybe he is for real.

    Seems to me that Conquest’s decision isn’t hard at all – find a driver how brings enough money or don’t race. They’ve been through Tracy, Mann, Baggy and whomever else and they don’t bring enough money to race. Presumably Saavedra did. It probably took .01 seconds to pull the trigger on this deal.

  14. Maybe Bachelart thought Saavedra being Colombian, he would somehow be the next Roberto Guerrero or Juan Pablo Montoya.

  15. Stan The Caddy Says:

    Bachelart needs to go away and sell his team to a owner who will at least pretend to try. His driver “choices” have been laughable.

    His team is a joke and hopefully will miss the Indy 500 this year with BOTH cars (with the other car probably driven by no-talent Pippa Mann).

  16. Bryan Herta is a class guy, who didn’t love his” Two Men and a truck “analogy at Indy to describe his team at Indy? Saavedra’s move to throw his team under the bus no matter who told him to do it was a punk move. I thought it was career suicide but this is where we are in Indycar. Class guys like Kanaan and Wheldon sit while jerks like Saavedra ride buy their way into the series. I thought Conquest was changing this year by talking to Tracy and Pippa but no such luck. I don’t expect either PT or Pip to run this year at least not with Conquest. I’ve read many interviews with Saavedra and he is not even interesting in staying in the series and is using it to try to be a stepping stone to an F1 career. I’m sick of these has been or never will F1 washouts taking seats away from people who came up though our system like Pippa. F1 has a feeder system, use it. Oh that’s right your handlers can’t write a big enough check to get into F1.

    • What Up Dick? Says:

      Ray Charles has a better chance of ever getting into a F1 car then Sebastien Saavedra.

      Pippa isn’t any good either. Just another rich kid ride buyer with little talent.

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