Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bryan Herta Autosport secures final spot in Indianapolis 500

The Indy car for Bryan Herta Autosport was in pieces. The driver was in the hospital. Valencia’s Bryan Herta, the owner of the team, didn’t know if he was in or out of the Indianapolis 500 until he was on his way to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tech center after qualifying was over on Sunday.
Sure enough, Herta’s team was in the Indianapolis 500 field, the last car in. Sebastian Saavedra will start 33rd for Bryan Herta Autosport in the 33-car field, the last car on the last row.
Herta, with a rookie driver, one car, limited resources and boundless hope, will make his first start in the Indy 500 as an owner.
“You know, we were well aware that we were going to have a roller coaster, that our race was to make the race, and we knew that we were going to be part of whatever is happening today, that it was going to be touch and go,” said Herta, a Hart High graduate. “But never in a million years could we have imagined the scenario that actually unfolded. Thank God. I already had a hard enough time sleeping.”
The scenario that unfolded involved one of the more active and eventful Bump Days in recent memory for the Indy 500. Saavedra put his car in the field on Bump Day, the last day of qualifying when drivers and teams can withdraw times to improve their positions in the race and bump other drivers out of the starting field.
Saavedra’s qualifying run was far from a lock to make the field of 33 cars. He was one of the drivers bumped out of the field as other drivers posted better qualifying speeds than his.
Saavedra was on the bubble and took his car out for practice in preparation for another qualifying run, but crashed in turn one. Herta thought his chances of making the field were gone.
His chances were revived when two drivers withdrew their times and put Saavedra back in the field.
Paul Tracy was one of those drivers. But he didn’t improve his qualifying run and Saavedra maintained his hold on the 33rd spot.
Jay Howard went out to try and improve his qualifying effort, but he too did not produce a better run.
When Bump Day was over, Saavedra was in the Indy 500 field, and on his way to the hospital to be evaluated after his crash.
“I had just turned on the television in my hospital room and I saw an interview with Bryan and my crew jumping up and down,” said Saavedra, a 19-year-old from Colombia. “My family started jumping in celebration. This is wonderful for me and my country. I’m still trying to process it. I want to thank Bryan Herta Autosport and William Rast for believing in me and making my dream come true.”
Herta said he never experienced the range of emotions in one week, let alone one day, through his years of racing in the Indianapolis 500.
“Three times. Three times we thought we were out when we crashed,” Herta said. “We were pretty confident that we were going to have to bump our way back into the race. So when we crashed we thought, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ And then we got bumped out the first time. And OK, thought, OK, you’re out, that’s it. And then time withdrew in front of us, we got back in.”
Saavedra had an MRI as a precautionary measure at the hospital. The results were negative. The car, the only one Bryan Herta Autosport has for the race, is in pretty bad shape.
“We broke the gearbox, bell housing, underwing, rear wing attenuator, left front suspension is junk,” said Steve Newey, who owns the team with Herta and is the team's race engineer. “Left rear suspension. Obviously, I could go on and on. There’s a lot. Honda wants to take a look at the engine.
“We’re going to have the engine over to Honda tomorrow to see how much damage there is. The tub appears to be OK. So there is a lot of damage, and our guys are coming in and we’re going to go shopping for used parts tomorrow.”

Photo: Sebastian Saavedra, driver for Bryan Herta Autosport, qualified for the Indianapolis 500 and will start 33rd in the 33-car field. (Bryan Herta Autosport)

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