Bryan Herta is “a fan.” So is Brian Belardi.
Gabby Chaves, who earned the Verizon IndyCar Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award with Herta’s team this season and won the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship with Belardi Auto Racing, is quick to return the sentiment.
Both individuals, and their personnel, have been instrumental in the 22-year-old’s motorsports development. Intangibles, such as determination and personality, well, that's what Chaves brings each day.
Two seasons in Indy Lights prepped Chaves for the transition, and he turned in a consistent 16-race effort: Second among all drivers in race laps completed (2,211 of 2,232), tied for the top in races running at the finish (15), an average finish of 14.4, a pair of top-10 finishes (best of ninth at Belle Isle 2), 31 laps led, and improving his position in 15 races (79 total positions advanced).
Chaves became the first driver since Marco Andretti in 2006 to earn the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award and the Verizon IndyCar Series top rookie award in the same year.
“Gabby has done a great job,” said Herta, who noted that it’s his intention to run Chaves in the No. 98 Honda in 2016. “He’s got a lot of potential, he has a lot of talent. He belongs in IndyCar.”
Chaves, who placed a respectable 15th in the championship standings for the one-car team, already is looking forward to improving his race craft and results next season.
“It was a fantastic year for me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to drive for Bryan Herta and his team,” said Chaves, who last week underwent ankle surgery to tighten ligaments that is unrelated to racing. “I couldn’t ask to be with a better group of guys in my first year, and they focused all their efforts into helping me succeed and improve.
“I’m looking forward to starting off next year very strong. I’m motivated. My first thought in the morning and last thought at night is about driving race cars. This is what I love to do, and if I can bring that motivation and it be contagious to the team and the crew then I think everyone is excited to work hard and go after wins.”
Chaves won the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the way to securing the Indy Lights title last year, and Belardi saw this year the continuation of a work ethic and mind-set to make every opportunity a learning experience.
“I said this to him at Mid-Ohio and he always laughs, that he’s one of the best young race car drivers I’ve ever seen,” said Belardi, whose two drivers will compete in the Indy Lights season-ending doubleheader this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. “He’s intelligent and methodical about the way he goes about his business. He’s always asking questions.
“And he’s the nicest person. It’s was so refreshing to have Gabby on our team. What he’s done this year is phenomenal. Bryan has one-car team and that’s difficult.”