With the announcement of Harding Racing’s confirmed full-time presence on the Verizon IndyCar Series grid for 2018, Colombian driver Gabby Chaves will enjoy his second full-time IndyCar campaign next season.
Chaves, 24, burst onto the scene in 2012 as a Mazda Road to Indy driver competing in the Pro Mazda championship. Driving for JDC Motorsports, he finished second in the championship that year and propelled himself into an Indy Lights seat for the next two seasons.
In 2013, Chaves again finished runner-up in the championship – this time as a member of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Indy Lights program. A second consecutive near-miss for the Colombian driver set up a dominant 2014 season where he won the Indy Lights championship with Belardi Auto Racing.
Grabbing four wins, five second-place finishes and 11 podiums in 14 races, Chaves graduated from the Mazda Road to Indy with a scholarship to compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He would eventually land with Brian Herta Autosport for the 2015 season, driving for the single-car team in the last season that Herta would operate the team on his own.
In a tumultuous season, Chaves could only muster a 15th-place finish in the championship. The lone highlights were a 9th place at Detroit’s second race and a 10th place run at Texas, and the team finished 15th or worse in 10 races that year.
In 2016, Chaves pieced together a seven-race deal with Dale Coyne Racing that was highlighted by a 12th place finish at Detroit and a finishing spot of 20th in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Starting fresh for 2017, Chaves aligned himself with the upstart Harding Racing team founded by Mike Harding, a leader in the asphalt and paving business throughout the Indianapolis area.
While it appeared to many that Harding would be an Indianapolis-only entry, making their debut in May at the 101st running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, it was clear to Chaves that the team had greater plans.
After meeting with Larry Curry to discuss the initial possibilities concerning Harding Racing, it was a meeting with Mike Harding himself that sealed the deal.
“Really their goals of being a long-term IndyCar operation, and hopefully growing into a very successful one, obviously aligned with mine – being a young driver and trying to find some stability where I can grow and really mature my skill set so I can become a successful driver, as well,” said Chaves.
From there, the Indianapolis-based team took off. They notched a respectable 9th place finish in their debut at the Indianapolis 500, and topped that result just a couple weeks later by finishing 5th at Texas Motor Speedway. A 15th place finish at Pocono Raceway wrapped up an incredibly positive first year in IndyCar.
With the comfort of a full-time program already in place, Chaves can begin to settle in and prepare for the 2018 season by relying on some lessons learned in the three years since his last full-time gig.
“When I came into my rookie year, obviously as a rookie and without any teammates to bounce any ideas or to learn from, I think that was a pretty big undertaking for a young guy then,” stated Chaves. “But over the last two seasons, I’ve been able to do some races here and there, share data with other guys, kind of understand the car – the technical side of it, the engineering side of it, and the mechanical side of it a lot more in depth than I did my first year.
“I think I was really able to put those skills a little bit better to the test in the few races that we did last year with Harding, and I think the results kind of showed the right progression. That’s kind of what I’m really aiming for this year is to keep that going, to drive to the fullest of my potential, and obviously to keep learning in any way, shape or form that I can to keep my career going ahead.”
One of the key hirings for Harding Racing has been the acquisition of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. as a driving consultant. The experienced Unser Jr. has worked with new team president, Brian Barnhart, in the past and the two can improve on an already successful combination that included Chaves in 2017.
Speaking on the impact that Unser Jr. has made on the team’s early strides, Chaves was not short on appreciation for the New Mexico native.
“He knows what it takes to win, most importantly, the Indianapolis 500,” said Chaves. “I think having him with me at every race – and although maybe at the time that he was driving the cars drove differently and maybe the driving doesn’t 100 percent correlate to how we drive the cars now, it’s still the same thing.
“You’re still trying to win races with speed and with race craft and with strategy, and just having the experience that he brings and being able to bounce ideas and pick his mind a little bit on how he runs his races, how he runs through the race in his mind… That just gives me a lot more to go off and to hopefully learn at an even quicker pace and apply his experience for me on track.”
Scheduled for a private test at Sonoma Raceway early in February, Chaves and the team are eager to get started now that the program is in place and it is finally time to compete for a championship.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Chaves said. “We’ve been preparing nonstop as if we were going to compete full-time all off-season, but now that it’s official, it certainly feels fantastic, and now we’re ready to get on track and see where all the work that we’ve done puts us, and we’ll go from there.”
Images courtesy of IndyCar