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.