Series Barber test 2009-03-21

SAAVEDRA PACES FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS TEST LEEDS, Ala. (Saturday, March 21, 2009) - Sebastian Saavedra paced the final Firestone Indy Lights Open Test before the start of the 2009 season. Saavedra, driving the No. 27 AFS Racing/Andretti ...

SAAVEDRA PACES FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS TEST

LEEDS, Ala. (Saturday, March 21, 2009) - Sebastian Saavedra paced the final Firestone Indy Lights Open Test before the start of the 2009 season. Saavedra, driving the No. 27 AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing entry, turned a fast lap of 1 minute 15.6714 seconds, 109.420 mph on the 15-turn, 2.38-mile road course at Barber Motorsports Park.

Saavedra's teammate, J.R. Hildebrand, was second at 1:15.7648 and Vision Racing's James Davison was third at 1:15.8599.

Nine cars participated in the test. Other teams opted not to attend the Open Test and use private test days to prepare at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla., for the doubleheader season opener April 4-5 at St. Petersburg, Fla.

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RLR/Andersen Racing has signed rising star Jonathan Summerton to drive its No. 9 car in the Firestone Indy Lights season-opening race at St. Petersburg. The team hopes to continue to field a car for Summerton in the remaining 13 races.

Summerton, 20, of Kissimmee, Fla., won the pole and finished third in the Atlantic Championship season opener March 20 at Sebring, Fla. driving for Genoa Racing. He finished third in the Atlantic series last year in his rookie season.

In 2007, Summerton competed in A1GP for Team USA, winning at Shanghai, China. He honed his skills in the Formula 3 Euro series, the European Formula BMW series and the Formula BMW USA series. He became the youngest driver ever to win a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he won a Formula BMW USA race at the Brickyard in 2004 at age 16.

"We are very pleased to enter into a driver development deal with one of America's brightest open-wheel stars, Jonathan Summerton," said RLR/Andersen Racing co-owner Dan Andersen. "His talent is recognized by many of us in the open-wheel community, and it is our great pleasure to have him as part of our 2009 Firestone Indy Lights lineup. We expect great things from him, beginning at St. Pete."

Summerton has tested with RLR/Andersen Racing twice; once at Sebring and once on the road course at Homestead, Fla. He'll participate in a private test at Kentucky Speedway on Monday in preparation for his Firestone Indy Lights oval test at that track on Tuesday. "I'm very excited," Summerton said. "I've tested with the team twice now, and I know it's a very good, very professional team. I appreciate all the faith that Dan Andersen has given me. I really hope I'll be able to do the entire Firestone Indy Lights season with RLR/Andersen Racing."

Summerton's teammate on the RLR/Andersen squad is Mario Romancini.

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Fifteen minutes before a one-hour autograph session with 11 IndyCar Series drivers, a line that was three and four people wide stretched more than 250 feet. Leeds resident Earl Barlow, who lined up two hours earlier, was at the head of the line. A big racing fan and IndyCar Series fan, Barlow has seen the IndyCar Series race in Richmond, Va.

Also taking a turn in the line - two Chick-Fil-A cow mascots.

"Signing the cows was one of the most unusual things I've signed," IndyCar Series driver Ed Carpenter said. "Overall, it was a great turnout. I think every driver ran out of autograph cards."

The long line for the autograph session was indicative of the enthusiasm for IndyCar Series racing in the Birmingham area. Track officials estimated 7,600 fans attended Saturday's Firestone Indy Lights Open Test.

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FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-TEST QUOTES:

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 27 AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing): "We did an awesome job as a team. We divided what we wanted to test with J.R.'s team, and we did a good job finding out the areas we need to improve on for the future. It's just a shame we couldn't finish the test and show what we learned the whole day at the end (due to a mechanical failure). Still, I'm happy with everything we learned because it's only my fourth test in this car. Being able to get up to speed this quickly is good, but I also have a lot to learn."

J.R. HILDEBRAND (No. 26 Andretti Green Racing/AFS Racing): "We started with a generic setup and realized we needed to go to the road course setup. And once we did that, we picked up speed. But we're not too concerned with that today. We're using this test just to figure some things out. Later on this year,when we get days at tracks we race on, we'll look to find speed." (About the track) "It's really a cool track. Looking at the layout, it's unclear whether it would be beneficial because there aren't that many slow corners. There's a lot of fast increasing and decreasing radius corners and a lot of bending and braking. But once you get out there, with the elevation changes, it really is a place where you can learn something setup-wise that will help us at places like Watkins Gl en and Sonoma and even Mid-Ohio. It definitely is an interesting place in terms of setup, and the team is working really hard to find the right one. But the driver is working hard too, because the line isn't what you expect."

JAMES DAVISON (No. 21 Vision Racing): "It was a very productive test for us as a team. We were quick all day, but at the end of the day, we should have trimmed out, and that cost us a chance at fast time. It's only testing. St. Pete is when they start giving points. Still, I feel good about today. Last year, ovals were my strength, and with my new engineer Lee Dykstra I can get from the car what I need. The car had the speed to be fastest in it. We just learned something new at the end."

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The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. The radio broadcast also will be carried on www.indycar.com. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg. The races will be telecast at 6 p.m. (EDT) on April 6 by VERSUS.

-credit: irl

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