INDIANAPOLIS – From journeyman to centerpiece, Gabby Chaves has found a home at Harding Racing.
The 2014 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion and 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year when he raced full time with Bryan Herta Autosport, Chaves has endured a tough path since. But he sees this as the perfect opportunity for not only himself, but INDYCAR’s newest team.
“I’ve had my ups and downs, right?” said Chaves, 23. “I’ve won championships, I’ve won plenty of races. I’ve also been out of a car and out of a ride. It’s just finding the motivation to go through the tough times, enjoying and doing the best we can through the good times.
“Right now, I’m facing a fantastic opportunity to really kick-start my career up again and really establish myself as an Indy car driver – which is all I want to be. I’m here, I’ve got a future with these guys. They’ve got a future in the series. I’m just really happy that we’re getting the work done.
“Obviously, we know the challenges that face us as a new team, but we’re prepared to face them and put in all the effort and all the work necessary to become a really competitive team.”
Team owner Mike Harding has been a fixture around Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 17 years. His construction company, Harding Group, was founded in 1960 and has performed asphalt and concrete work at IMS. Harding is an official track sponsor and hosts nearly 4,000 customers and guests on Indianapolis 500 race weekend.
Harding’s race team is set to officially debut in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil after Chaves qualified 25th today with a four-lap run of 226.921 mph in the No. 88 Chevrolet.
The team also has plans to run the other superspeedway ovals on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule at Texas Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway, with a goal of being a full-season entry in 2018. Harding and team manager/race strategist Larry Curry have been methodical in putting the pieces together, with the long-term goal in mind.
That suits Chaves just fine. After driving the full season in 2015, he competed in just seven races last year with Dale Coyne Racing. The search has been ongoing for a full-time return and Chaves hopes it can be with Harding Racing.
“It’s been a process,” Chaves said. “It started with an idea last year between Mike and Larry Curry during the 500 here. It came to life, probably the first week of January, and ever since then it’s been full steam ahead, getting the team together and preparing so that we can start off on the right foot. I think we’ve got plenty more to improve on and work on, but I think we’ve done exactly what we intended to do.”
The team boasts more than 100 combined years of experience and has an added boost in team consultant and driver coach, Al Unser Jr., the two-time Indy 500 champion. Unser (shown above with Chaves) acknowledges the differences in racing from his time to now, but praised Chaves for understands what it takes to run well.
“It’s quite simple,” said Unser. “The fundamentals of the Indy 500 are the same and they’ve been the same from the ‘50s and ‘60s. You first have to finish to finish first. The pit stops have to be made correctly.
“The fundamentals are the same. The formula of the way they’re driving these cars has changed immensely. We never ran wide open from full tanks to empty tanks every stop, and that’s what they do out there. They generally run in packs.
“Gabby’s in tune to that formula of racing. He’s out there, he knows what he needs to do. This is the maturity level that I’ve seen in him. He’s come up the (Mazda) Road to Indy and he’s been around for the last three or four years. He knows what these cars want, what they like and don’t like, so he’s a fantastic driver.”
For any driver, the goal is obvious – win. Chaves is no different. But as Unser said, he first has to finish before he can finish first.
“We want to have a competitive car in the race and get ourselves inside the top 10 so that we can be there around the last 30 or 40 laps,” said Chaves. “If we can do that, then we’ve got a pretty realistic shot of finishing in the top five or even winning the thing.”
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