Chaves, Harding look to keep good times rolling at Pocono

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Gabby Chaves is eager to carry on the success he’s found with his new Verizon IndyCar Series team and at Pocono Raceway.

Driving for the third race this season with Harding Racing, the 24-year-old native of Colombia is looking to build on top-10 finishes at the previous two superspeedway events at Sunday’s ABC Supply 500. In three prior visits to Pocono, he has earned a win and podium finish in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires followed by an 11th-place finish in his only previous Verizon IndyCar Series race on the “Tricky Triangle” oval.

“Extremely excited (for Pocono),” said Chaves, who will drive the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet this weekend. “It’s been awhile since Texas. I feel like we gained some good momentum from Indianapolis and Texas. Moving on forward, hopefully we can just keep that up and get another great finish.”

At the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May, Chaves returned to an Indy car seat for the first time nine months and finished ninth in Harding Racing’s debut. It was his best showing in three attempts at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Those numbers were exceeded just two weeks later in the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. The series’ 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year battled through the crash-filled affair to finish fifth – his first top-five finish in 25 career starts.

His resume at Pocono has also been impressive. In two Indy Lights starts, Chaves has one win and two podiums. His only start there in the Verizon IndyCar Series came with Bryan Herta Autosport in 2015, when he charged through the field from 16th starting spot to lead 31 laps before a mechanical issue relegated him to the 11th-place finish.

Chaves believes he and Harding Racing can keep the momentum going this weekend.

“I think the expectation is still the same, which is … we feel like we’ve got a pretty car in both races that we’ve done so far,” said Chaves. “Absolutely, racing is a little bit about luck and we had some good luck at both races, but we also had a competitive car where we were racing guys, challenging for positions and making passes on track.

“I expect that to be the same at Pocono and, of course, I expect us to make progress as far as our overall competitiveness in the race weekend. We should be, and I hope that we can be, a lot closer in our qualifying speed and challenge even better during the race.”

Larry Curry, team manager and race strategist, has put together a team full of individuals with experience in Indy car racing. Combined with Chaves’ resume at Pocono, there’s reason to believe in another strong performance.

“We know how well Gabby has run at Pocono in the past,” said Curry. “So even though we didn’t get to go there and test, we are going to run in the simulator at Dallara on Aug. 15 and 16 before we come to Pocono to just get Gabby re-familiarized with the track and all that bit. Hopefully that’ll help us settle in quicker there.

“The expectations are that we certainly believe we can go there and have another top-10 run.”

The ABC Supply 500 is set to be the last race of the year for Harding Racing. Plans are in the works for a full Verizon IndyCar Series season campaign in 2018, Chaves is hoping they saved their best for last this year.

“The game plan is certainly to come out right away in a stronger stance than we did at Texas,” said Chaves.  

“At Texas, we had very limited information on the new track surface, so we had to play the game of getting a good race car. At Pocono, we’ve got a little bit more information (in advance). I’ve been there before, so we can be a little bit more aggressive in how we enter the weekend and how we unload our car in practice and how we go on about qualifying.

“Then when we go racing, it’s obviously going to be a bit of a stretch to say we can go out there and win, but that’s always the goal. We’re never aiming for second, third, fourth, fifth or even 10th place. You always want to aim for the win, but we understand the reality and we understand it’s very unlikely, but that is always the goal.

“So we’ll go out there and we’ll do everything we can to have the fastest car. I’ll do everything I can to make sure I’m driving to the best of my potential and ability and see where that gets us.”

ABC Supply 500 practice begins at 9 a.m. ET Saturday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com), with qualifying airing live at 1 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN. Coverage of the 200-lap race begins at 2 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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