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Rookie Saavedra Entering Comfort Zone With Herta Team

The way the co-owner explains the infrastructure of Bryan Herta Autosport’s Indianapolis 500 program, it’s much like a cocoon for Sebastian Saavedra.

The 19-year-old driver from Colombia, who will attempt to be the first since Jeff Simmons in 2008 to compete in the 500 Mile Race and Firestone Freedom 100 in the same year, appreciates the sense of security and developmental influence.

“Between myself, Roberto (Guerrero), (co-owner and team manager) Steve (Newey), (race engineer) Chris Finch and Don Lambert, his crew chief, he has a lot of experience behind him,” said Herta, a five-time Indy 500 starter.

Bryan Herta Autosport is in its second year of Firsestone Indy Lights competition and, like Saavedra, is a rookie entrant in the Indianapolis 500.

“We’re a new team but we’ve been at the Speedway many times and know what it is and what it’s about,” Herta continued. “We’ll all be drawing on our experience to try to pass that along to him and go through the learning process that everyone goes through when they arrive here.”

Saavedra, who participated in a Firestone Indy Lights Open Test the day before in preparation for the Firestone Freedom 100, joined eight other rookies and returning drivers May 15 in what was scheduled as an orientation/refresher program on Opening Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Only a handful of laps were completed before the racetrack was closed because of steady rain. They will return, weather permitting, at 11 a.m. May 16.

Veteran drivers were on the track for two hours to kick off activity leading up to Pole Day qualifications May 22. Three-time and defending champion Helio Castroneves topped the time chart at 39.7170 seconds (226.603 mph) in the No. 3 Team Penske car.

Saavedra, who is fifth in the Firestone Indy Lights championship standings with two top-five finishes in three races, was the series’ Rookie of the Year in ’09 and placed third in the standings with AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing.

“We were really impressed with Sebastian, because at 19 he just has a maturity and calmness to his approach that this place demands,” Herta said. “You can’t get impatient here. We feel very comfortable that Sebastian was ready to make this step and I think he’ll acquit himself very well and he’ll open a lot of eyes.”

Saavedra is within earshot of the comments and smiles. He’s confident of his abilities, but is humbled by the opportunity.

“It’s something that I didn’t picture myself doing last year, so it came to me as a big surprise,” said Saavedra, who is driving the No. 29 William Rast-sponsored car. “It’s very exciting for not only me but the Bryan Herta Autosport crew. I think we’re all on the same page. We want to approach it as any other race, but we know it isn’t. We have the best people around me and that gives me the confidence to go out there and do my best.”

He points to having Guerrero, a two-time Indianapolis 500 runner-up and co-Rookie of the Year in his 15 starts, on board as a bonus – and privilege.

“He was the first Colombian to be on the racing map,” said Saavedra, who was 9 years old when Guerrero competed in his final Indy 500. “I probably followed him more and know more about his history than (fellow Colombian Juan Pablo) Montoya. Now that he’s part of the project, it’s a dream come true.”

For his part, Guerrero will observe, offer suggestions and generally assist Saavedra attain his dream just as Guerrero did in 1984.

“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,” he said. “Now, to be back with a purpose – because I really think I can help Sebastian – you know, I’m really looking forward to it.”

***

2010 Indy 500 tickets: Tickets for the 2010 Indianapolis 500, scheduled for Sunday, May 30, are on sale now. Race Day ticket prices start at just $20.

Fans can order tickets online at www.imstix.com, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area or visit the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street. Online orders can be made at any time. Hours for phone orders and the ticket office are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.

Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.

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