Yesterday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Colombian driver Gabby Chaves kept pace with 3 veteran drivers that are considered legends in their own rights. Will Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy has an IndyCar Series Championship. Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell Team Penske Chevy has won the Indianapolis 500 three times and will try to join the four-timers club in less than two weeks time. Ryan Hunter-Reay has one Indy 500 win and one series Championship to his name and pilots the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda.
Chaves ran P3 amongst these series giants, clocking a best lap speed of 223.991. Power ran 224.656, Castroneves 224.287, and Hunter-Reay ran a 223.960. The three aforementioned drivers have long-term relationships with their respective teams and look to continue that tradition for their foreseeable IndyCar futures. Chaves has a similar goal, in that he wants to race Indy cars for the rest of his racing career and preferably with the opportunity to grow with a single team, build those relationships, and find that cohesive unit that can fight to become the best of the best, together. Given those aspirations, Harding Racing might be the perfect place for him…
“He (Mike Harding) told me, ‘I don’t want to come here and just do it once, I want to come here and be in it for the rest of my life and do it successfully, and we’re looking at a young driver that we can build around.’ So I think our objectives kind of just meshed together, and we just made it work.”
I find it very exciting to 1.) see new teams enter into the Verizon IndyCar Series (Harding Racing is only confirmed to run in the Indy 500 right now), and 2.) see young drivers with mass amounts of talent be given the chance to pilot an Indy car and live up to their on-track potential.
Chaves is a perfect example of such a driver, having won the Indy Lights Championship and the Freedom 100 race at IMS in 2014 with Belardi Auto Racing. He went on to a full season with Bryan Herta Autosport in 2015, leading laps at Pocono Raceway and aiming for a podium finish if not for his engine giving out with a handful of laps remaining. He went on to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award that year, by a full 78 points ahead of fellow rookie Stefano Coletti.
While Chaves is battling against guys like Power, Castroneves, and Hunter-Reay, he’s also working alongside one of the biggest names in auto-racing: Unser. Al Unser, Jr. to be exact. ‘Little Al’, as he was affectionately referred to in his Indy car racing days, has taken on the role of mentor and coach with Chaves this month,
“Al Unser, Jr., (is) working with me, to give me his experience, his learning, and everything that he’s learned here, trying to give as much as he can to me so I can expedite my learning curve, go out there, and get right to it.”
Chaves seems to be in a very good place. He’s worked successfully in IndyCar with Bryan Herta for an entire season (2015), ran in 7 events for Dale Coyne Racing (2016) and now is getting in at the ground level with Harding Racing. He did not hold back on commending the work that Mike Harding, Larry Curry, Matt Curry, and the entire No. 88 Chevy crew has done in preparation for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing,
“I think we were quick today because the guys in Harding Racing did a hell of a job getting the car together and putting on a fantastic race car.”
All teams want to give an impressive show at the ‘500’, and new teams want to make a name for themselves. Young drivers like Chaves need the backing of a team that believes in them, coaches them, and helps them find that perfect combination within a team that yields success for all involved. Having said that, I think that Harding Racing and Gabby Chaves are in a great position. And who knows? Maybe on a not-so-distant Sunday afternoon, that position will be P1.
Photo credit: Walter Kuhn/IndyCar