Gustavo Yacaman and Sebastian Saavedra renew rivallry at Sebring Indy Lights Open Test

Gustavo Yacaman and Sebastian Saavedra have been rivals for most of their racing careers.

Judging from the results of Firestone Indy Lights testing at Sebring International Raceway, the rivalry between the two young Colombian racers may pick up where it left off.

Yacaman paced the test with a lap of 56.4954 seconds, knocking Saavedra (56.5711 seconds) from the top spot with a few minutes left in the one-day test session.

"Today was a lot of carryover from what we've done since last season," Yacaman said. "I'm happy with the performance today, but we still need to go quicker. The competition in the series is going to be really tough. Last year, I might have been too aggressive and too cocky going into the year. I got knocked down a bit. We're just going to have to work out butts off to keep this pace against some very tough competition."

Saavedra, who will compete in Firestone Indy Lights with AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport, led most of the day's eight hours of testing. He said his return to the team felt like he had never left.

"Working with this team today was like the same feeling I had in 2009," Saavedra said. "The test went exactly how we expected. I was able to catch the feeling of the Indy Lights, which was good. It allowed us to get with the testing program and components that we want to use for St. Pete. I think we did a great job. Now we need to focus on what's coming for St. Pete."

Juncos Racing's duo of Peter Dempsey (57.1157 seconds) and J.V. Horto (57.4440) were third and fourth respectively, while Juan Pablo Garcia of Jeffrey Mark Motorsport rounded out the top-five with a lap of 57.6071.

In all, eight drivers turned 622 laps with the day's only incident involving Indian rookie Armaan Ebrahim, who made contact with the tire barrier in Turn 6. Ebrahim was not injured in the incident, but his No. 24 Fan Force United car was damaged too severely to repair before the end of the test.

The IZOD IndyCar Series will begin the second half of its Sebring Open Test on March 8 with 16 cars and drivers expected to participate.


St. Petersburg honors Dan Wheldon

The corner of Bayshore Drive and Albert Whitted Park -- aka Turn 10 of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- is an appropriate spot to pay tribute to Dan Wheldon.

It was Turn 10 where Wheldon overtook Ryan Briscoe and went on to win the inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series street race on April 3, 2005, leading a sweep of the top four positions for then-Andretti Green Racing.

A few hours later, Wheldon jumped into Tampa Bay to celebrate. Seven weeks later, he won the first of his two Indianapolis 500 titles and doused himself in milk and champagne.

Wheldon, the 2005 series champion who moved to St. Petersburg in 2005, died from injuries suffered in a race crash in October. His wife Susie and two young sons still call the community home.

Three weeks before the eighth annual race, Mayor Bill Foster and Susie Wheldon unveiled a street sign at Turn 10, which will be known at Dan Wheldon Way. A few yards away, a permanent memorial honoring Wheldon will be erected this fall. It will contain names of all winners of Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

"I want to take this opportunity to than our St. Petersburg family for all the love and support the past several months," said Susie Wheldon, whose sons were exploring the course while she addressed the crowd. "I am so proud and blessed to be able to call St. Petersburg home. I want to thank the city, the Honda Grand Prix and American Honda for recognizing Dan in such a special way. This is something that we can cherish for years to come. Sebastian and Oliver will be proud to know the impact their father had in this community and the world of motorsports."

Foster, officials from the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, INDYCAR drivers and officials, representatives of American Honda Motor Co. and the public attended the dedication ceremony.

"I know that Dan adored the personal relationship with each one of (the drivers)," said Foster, who counted Wheldon among the members of the city's Sports Alliance. "I saw it in his eyes, I saw it in his actions, and he told me so. His City of St. Petersburg, his adopted hometown, loved Dan Wheldon. Not as a drivers, which was kind of cool, but we loved Dan Wheldon as a neighbor and somebody we could rely upon to do great things in sports.

"He was about so much more than racing."

It's got to be the shoes

Sebastian Saavedra's pace may have come from a source other that himself. Saavedra forgot to bring a pair of shoes to the test and borrowed a pair of driving boots from Peter Dempsey.

"It was definitely the shoes that helped him," Dempsey joked as Saavedra answered questions from a reporter.

"All credit to Peter for his shoes," Saavedra quickly retorted.

Electrical gremlin returns

David Ostella sat out the morning session of the test after his team discovered an electrical issue while warming up the car.

The team had a similar issue while waming the engine in its race shop and it was determined that the wiring harness had burned out.

The crew repaired the wiring at the track and Ostella was able to take to the track for the afternoon session.

Interested spectators

Former Firestone Indy Lights competitor Martin Plowman was at Sebring, serving as a driver coach for Rodin Younessi, who hopes to move up from the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship to Firestone Indy Lights.

Plowman will race as part of the endurance program for Conquest Racing, which also fields Younessi's racing effort.

Another former race winner, Stefan Wilson, also spent time in the paddock watching the test.