INDIANAPOLIS – Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing achieved the remarkable in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Now the hope is to build the program in the future.
Chaves had his best finish in three Indianapolis 500 starts on Sunday and equaled his best Verizon IndyCar Series finish in 24 career races when he placed ninth with the team making its series debut. Starting 25th, Chaves ran a methodical race in the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, not cracking the top 15 until the final 40 laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Despite a troublesome final pit stop with 30 laps left in the 200-lap race, the 23-year-old Colombian charged from 22nd position to post the top-10 result.
“The guys did a good job every pit stop of dialing the car in,” said Chaves, the 2014 Indy Lights champion and 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year for both the Indy 500 and the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
“In the beginning, we struggled. We let the track come to us and made the adjustments. Man, I don’t know if there was anyone else out there at the end that was able to challenge like we did, from mid-pack to closer to the front; so very happy with that.”
Chaves relied on the veteran guidance of team manager/strategist Larry Curry and race engineer Matt Curry, Larry’s son, to make the car better throughout the marathon race. Chaves had risen to 12th – one spot ahead of fellow Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya – on Lap 167 when he pitted under a caution for what he thought was the final time in the race. An airjack malfunction made the stop excruciatingly long and Chaves had to come back two laps later, while still under yellow, to complete things.
“I see Montoya finished sixth (in the race),” Chaves said, wondering what might have been. “We were running in front of him before our last stop. We had an airjack problem, so it’s a little bit of a bummer knowing we could have been even more up front. But for the first time (for the team), hell of a run.”
Chaves also had to take quick action to avoid a pair of crashes during the race. The first was the frightening collision between pole sitter Scott Dixon and Jay Howard that sent Dixon’s car airborne. The second was the Lap 184 five-car pile-up involving James Davison, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Oriol Servia and Will Power.
Showcasing the understanding of a veteran, Chaves preached the importance of charging forward but in measured aggression.
“Twice in a row, big crash right in front of me and missing it by inches,” said Chaves, whose prior best Indy 500 finish was of 16th with Bryan Herta Autosport when he earned top rookie honors in 2015.
“Really, it’s a balance. You’ve got to attack, but you’ve got to know when to be patient. I think it came through (in the race). We’ll come back next year and go for that win.”
The Indianapolis-based team led by owner Mike Harding is seeking to join the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2018 with Chaves as the centerpiece. Plans call for Chaves to race in the remaining two superspeedway events this season: the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10 and the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 20.
Chaves wasn’t looking ahead, however. He couldn’t wipe the smile from his face for what Harding Racing’s maiden effort accomplished.
“It was a first-time effort by a brand-new team,” Chaves said. “I think we can be happy with what we’ve done. From the very first day that Harding Racing was established, our main goal was to become a full-time INDYCAR team.”