Q and A with Vasser and Saavedra
We are pleased to be joined today by KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser who is here to make a team announcement concerning the 2014 IndyCar Series season.
Jimmy, go ahead.
JIMMY VASSER: We'll, we're pleased to announce today we've joined forces with Gary Peterson and his AFS group to have Sebastian Saavedra drive the No. 17 KV/AFS Racing entry. Chevrolet power. Looking forward to getting running here today at Sonoma and attacking the championship.
Q. Jimmy, congratulations on the partnership with AFS Racing and Gary Peterson. How exactly did the partnership come about with Gary and bringing Sebastian onboard?
JIMMY VASSER: Actually started with Sebastian and myself bumping into each other at an airport, I think it might have been Laguardia heading to Toronto. We thought we would keep in touch and see how things progressed, not knowing really at that point where either ways were going to go for next season. Then having discussions with Gary over the wintertime, just general discussions, getting to know each other, really on kind of a friendship basis initially. Then just listening and seeing what was going to happen. We weren't sure what was going to happen with our second car at the time. Just trying to keep all options open.
Things started to progress over the last 30 days. Lo and behold here we are. I think it's a very exciting situation for us. Keeping the two Sebastiens together for a second year, I'm familiar with how teammate situations work, I've been in them before. Usually the first season is a little bit awkward with new teammates. Now I think they've gotten that out of the way. They know how they work together good and how they work together bad. I think that will be beneficial.
Q. We are pleased to be joined by Sebastian Saavedra. Sebastian, you have to be excited to confirm plans for the 2014 season and with KV Racing Technology.
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA: Yes, it's very exciting, something we've been working for for some time, as Jimmy said. To be part of this great partnership between AFS and KV, it's something that makes us proud. Very excited to start the season for me today here in Sonoma. Looking forward to making a very good season ahead of us.
Q. You mentioned you're testing today in Sonoma with the team. I know seat time is everything for drivers, especially this close to the season start. What are your expectations for the day and possibly if you could comment what your expectations are for the season.
Now we have the opportunity to be here in Sonoma. It's already working with all the cylinders for the season together with Bourdais again. Just looking forward to a great season.
We finished very strong last year. I think from everything I learned, it's time to put everything into practice and look for those great opportunities in the 16 races ahead.
Q. Jimmy, what did you see in Sebastian from his running last year with Dragon, in the past with AFS, Andretti and even with Conquest?
JIMMY VASSER: Obviously with Conquest he came in aggressive. He went through some hardships I think it was early on in his career at Indianapolis. It takes a lot of mettle to do that. Particularly last year, early on, with qualifying in the Fast Six, really kind of being very competitive if not in qualifying form outpacing Bourdais, which to me was very, very impressive.
The speed is there. Everybody knows it takes a few years to kind of get comfortable in the series, really start finding your legs. We expect him to really get into a rhythm. Maybe missed a few tests here, but we're going on to Sebring after this, then Texas and Barber. There should be plenty of seat time for him to get comfortable with the new engineers for him and the team.
Q. Jimmy, what is your outlook for a third car at Indy?
JIMMY VASSER: It's real good. We're currently talking to a few drivers. It's our intention to run a third car at Indy. I think we will achieve that.
Q. Do you need a veteran?
JIMMY VASSER: Yeah. We probably wouldn't consider a rookie. A guy or girl needs to be able to add to the program at Indianapolis. We don't need to be dragging anything down. We need somebody that can lend a hand and be able to be a protagonist in the race.
Q. Sebastian, now that you're moving up the grid a little bit, I don't think anyone would accuse Conquest or Dragon being championship-caliber teams offhand, but what do you think of the opportunity to use this equipment and to move up to work with Sebastien for another year?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA: Very excited. As Jimmy said, it's very important to have some sort of relationship going with your teammate. I think we were able to build that last year.
I think joining forces again with a great team that has had a history, of course having the mentality of securing an Indy 500 last year is even more motivation to keep building that strong asset and even look for the championship.
So having the tools, the energy, the mentality, I think it's all there.
Q. Have you confirmed your engineering lineup as yet or is that still to be determined?
JIMMY VASSER: No, it's confirmed. Confirmed within our team. I'm sure the team will release that shortly.
Q. Jimmy, you've been around a Colombian driver in the past when you were a driver for Chip Ganassi Racing. Now your outlook on having three Colombians this year.
JIMMY VASSER: I mean, it looks to me like it's poised for us to have a race down in Colombia. I don't think anybody would complain about that. Beautiful country, beautiful women. A perfect opportunity. Usually these are the ingredients that are key for us when we go to overseas venues like that.
I'd say, watch out, Colombia, we may be coming.
Q. What would be your expectation from Sebastian this first year with you guys?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, I expect to have trophies in the trophy case. That's why we race. The guys really get excited when we put trophies in there. Last year we had both drivers put trophies in the trophy case, so I expect to have some trophies in there.
Q. Sebastian, what does it mean for you to be now with such a team that has won the Indianapolis 500 last year and what it means for you to have the backing of someone who believes in you so much as Gary Peterson?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA: I'm very excited to be part of this great project. I think it's something that, of course, gives a lot of energy for me to keep pushing, looking for those not only podiums but victories.
As I said before, having the opportunity to be with a team that secured the Indy 500 last year gives even more motivation to not only repeating it but looking forward to a championship even.
A lot of motivation going on. I think a great combination of engineering, mechanics. We're very well-prepared. Looking forward to an awesome season ahead.
Q. Jimmy, with two drivers now, both named Sebastien, does that present any communications problems on the radio with you now at the track?
JIMMY VASSER: No, they don't overlap. There's direct lines. I don't think it should be a problem. I don't think it was a problem last year when we were in the same situation.
Q. Jimmy, it seems as though the smaller-budget teams are bridging the gap to the Penskes, Ganassis, Andrettis. Why do you think you're competing now for possible wins and championships?
JIMMY VASSER: First of all, it's hard work. It's people, surrounding yourself with good people, getting drivers in the seat. You really can't drop the ball in any area.
Then I think it's the competitive nature of IndyCar really to me seems like it's coming back towards the old days. Everybody is working very hard, both Chevrolet and Honda. The league does a real good job to make sure that the rules situation is that it's a pretty even platform with the current Dallara DW12, not allowing too much of the big teams that have a lot of money to get a huge advantage, like Penske used to call it 'the unfair advantage.'
I think those are the reasons why the racing is so, so close.
Q. Jimmy, looking at the field last year, it is probably the most stacked it has been. For me, thinking of the CART days, with so many good, talented drivers from IndyCar, Indy Lights, Renault 3.5, what did you see in Sebastian that made him be the choice for KV?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, it really comes down to a package and a deal. He's an up-and-coming young driver showing great potential. There's a lot of confidence in him from his owner's side in Gary Peterson and AFS Racing. It was kind of a coming of the minds to KV and AFS. With Sebastian and Gary coming together, it's more of a turn-key situation.
The fact of the two Sebastiens working together last year really made a big difference for us as well. Like I said, I've been through the situation when teammates are new with each other. It's always an awkward situation. You see when teammates can have years under their belt, I lived it with my years with Zanardi, you saw it happen with Dixon and Franchitti. Good teammates for years together seem to find a way to work well together. Similar situation with the Andretti group.
JIMMY VASSER: Everybody has their own style. He's Colombian, but he's certainly not like Montoya in personality. We'll have to see on the track as he develops.
Q. Jimmy, you talked about a third car at Indy. If they spread this qualifying over two days, do you think that hurts a team trying to field that third car?
JIMMY VASSER: You know, I don't think so, not if it's staffed properly and the mentality is right. If you're just trying to throw a third car in willy-nilly at the last minute, maybe so. We're going to have our third car situation nailed down earlier than later. We will have proper leadership from management on down to run that car.
Q. Were you at the Sebring test?
JIMMY VASSER: No, I was not.
Q. May not be easy to answer. You talked about Juan. Montoya struggled there. Do you draw anything from that?
JIMMY VASSER: Not necessarily. Like I know right now there are some 2014 spec engines and 2013 spec engines out there. You don't know who's got what in the car. You don't know what their test plan is.
I know better than anybody, I'm not going to bet against Montoya. I had my ass kicked too many times to do that (laughter).
Q. What can we look for in new technology for the cars? Any big advances?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, there are some advances. I wouldn't say any really big ones. There's a new iteration of an engine. Bigger change for Honda, going from the single turbo to the double turbo, which is mandated now. We've been testing some different choices for the underbelly of the car. We call it 'the floor'. No decisions have been made.
Q. Do you think it will be a better racecar?
JIMMY VASSER: I think the racecar is proving to be a pretty darn good one, putting on some pretty good races. The racecar for the most part is going to be the same. I think from the chassis situation, the changes that have been made, there's an intrusion panel change. It's more geared for safety. Those kind of changes, you want to make little ones and make sure they're right.
But the car is definitely going to be quite a bit faster I think upping the horsepower.
Q. How much more horsepower will you have?
JIMMY VASSER: They never tell us. I'm guessing maybe it's 20 horsepower. But I think the biggest difference you'll probably see is at Indianapolis with qualifying speeds probably inching closer to 230, 231.
Q. Jimmy, you talked about continuity between teammates. Is this a one-year deal or a multi-year deal? Is AFS going to be for the entire season or is there going to be any other logos on the car throughout 2014?
JIMMY VASSER: Our deal with AFS at this point in time is a one-year meant to be two, and hopefully more than that. But just to get it off and rolling right now, it's just a one-year.
Our package with Sebastien Bourdais is a two-year at this point. It's everybody's intention that the AFS will mirror at least the Bourdais one. At this point we're working on trying to get it to that level.
Q. Sebastian, having been with Gary for a period of time, does it make it more comfortable for you that you don't have to worry about the sponsor because you know what they expect and they're there to help you?
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA: For sure, they're like family at this point. They brought me from Europe in 2009. I've kept a great relationship with them since then.
It's for sure a nice feeling to have your family backing you up, or your second family. The first one is backing me very strongly also since I was born.
But it's something that makes me very happy, that we were able to pull this through. It's something that we've been speaking about for some while now.
To bring AFS back to the paddock, it's been two, almost three years the last time they really make a big effort in the series. So that tells how interested in making the series keep growing and how excited they are to see everything's going.
For sure it's very satisfying.
Q. In my conversations with Gary (Petersen), he's wanted to get back to IndyCar. But for you as a driver, you have a team sponsor who has been a driver, and Jimmy Vasser, who also has been a driver. Does that help? When you have a problem, you can go to them and say, What can I do here?
Of course, I want to build my own career and try to learn many things by myself, trying the hard path. Whenever I have a situation, I'm for sure going to use their ways.
That so far has been good. Since last year, driving with Bourdais, I think at some point we didn't know each other, I didn't even know he had four times champ. It's something that built throughout the season to the point where he understood he didn't need to teach me that much and that he needed to many times keep pushing even stronger to be the main car there.
It's been good. We're going to do an interesting pair.
Q. Jimmy, now that you have both Sebastiens, you have Sonoma testing, road courses, then Indy, what do you see as your strongest point, road courses or ovals?
JIMMY VASSER: It's probably no secret that our ovals were very strong last year with Tony Kanaan. We did seem to struggle on the road and streets. We're looking to up our game on the road and street circuits, keeping obviously our proven platform that we have from the ovals.
Really it's going to be interesting to see. I'm excited about the road courses. Actually, there's four road courses before we actually do the 500. So we're out here in Sonoma right now doing work on our road course platform. But we do have a level of confidence with our oval package.
I'd like to see balance.
Q. Are you trying to get more out of the engine, tires, suspension? How are you going to try to pull together your road course image?
JIMMY VASSER: The engine is already there. It's strong. We have Chevrolet power. I wouldn't trade it for Honda, that's for sure.
Our work is on the chassis, the engineers and the drivers, trying to get more mechanical and overall grip. Trying to lengthen the life of the tire really is kind of the game where we're not beating the tire up so much and we can have a consistent run throughout a full stint. Those are kind of our goals right now.
Q. Jimmy, you were speaking earlier about how Montoya broke in when you were there. He was a young guy. He won the championship. These days IndyCar is pretty much dominated by the veterans. Do you see the generational change coming soon?
There's always a changing of the guard. When I came in, it was Rick Mears' last year, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti two years after. Those were all great names and big heroes of mine. I was in awe just to be leaving the pit lane on one of their rear wings.
It's just inevitable. The changing of the guard will happen. The younger guys always bring a lot of enthusiasm, fearlessness. Once they figure out really the name of the game, what it takes to compete, and if they're in the right environment, it will be a younger man's game. Athletics and sports, it's hand-eye coordination, reaction times. It's just an inevitable situation.
THE MODERATOR: We will wrap-up today's IndyCar conference call and thank Sebastian and Jimmy for their time today.
JIMMY VASSER: Thank you.
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA: Thank you.
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