SONOMA, Calif. – It wasn’t nearly as important to Gabby Chaves that main championship rival Jack Harvey was 18 seconds ahead in the 38-lap Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course.
Maintaining the 13-second gap on third-place Zach Veach in the waning laps was the priority of the 21-year-old Miami resident in the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing car.
Chaves, the series championship runner-up in 2013, clinched the title with the runner-up finish, which is all he needed after he and Harvey tied with 547 points. Both recorded four victories so the tiebreaker turned to second-place finishes. Chaves held that advantage 5-1 through the 14-race season.
“It’s was the longest race of my life,” Chaves said. “Obviously, I knew where I needed to finish. There was no reason for me to push to keep up with Jack. Racing is a game of being the fastest, but also a game of consistency and a game of strategy. As funny as it sounds, we won the championship on tire strategy and being consistent.”
Chaves was referring to the first race of the weekend, in which Harvey earned bonus points for earning the pole and leading the most laps en route to the victory. But Chaves recorded the fastest race lap for a bonus point, which proved to be a deciding factor.
“In qualifying when we were lacking about three-tenths (of a lap time to Harvey) with two sets of tires, we said we might as well save a set for the race and try to get fastest lap,” Chaves said. “We knew if we had that bonus point and Jack didn’t it would come down to a tie if we finished second in both races. It’s funny that’s what happened.”
Harvey, who won four the final five races in the No. 42 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car, entered the race 12 points back.
“It’s not easy to deal with. We were pretty consistent this year and cold point to two or three races where we could have done better. Where you finish in the championship is probably where you deserve to finish,” said Harvey, 21, of England, who was competing in the States for the first year.
Chaves said without the pressure of catching or prospect of being caught he could concentrate on not making a mistake and enjoy the ride. The championship comes with a $750,000 Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to assist with the advancement to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.
“It was a mixture of happiness and excitement. I was trying to take it all in. On the last five laps I just said to myself, ‘Enjoy it,’ ’’ Chaves said.
Luiz Razia finished fourth in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car and Matthew Brabham was fifth in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport entry.