FORT WORTH, Texas – It’s been a long road for Gabby Chaves since his breakout Verizon IndyCar Series rookie campaign in 2015, but things appear headed in the right direction.
The 23-year-old Colombian was last week announced as the driver for Harding Racing, a new team that will make its debut in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil next month. Chaves was in the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet for the first time Wednesday at the Texas Motor Speedway open test, turning a total of 49 laps.
“This has kind of been one of those things I’ve been looking forward to,” Chaves said. “We’ve had this deal done since January and I’ve been doing all I can to keep it hush-hush. But we’ve been working behind the scenes all that time and I mean most Indy-only efforts will be popping up in May when they are finishing up their cars.
“This shows that these guys have been working tremendously hard for the last three months to make it so we can come out here to Texas, do our shakedown, get through any little hiccups and roadblocks that we need to work through, so that we don’t spend the opening day of practice for the Indy 500 doing all of this. We’ve worked through them and even got a few runs there at the end at speed.
“Just really happy, there are a lot of good guys around me here that definitely give me a good shot of winning this thing.”
Harding Racing will have a technical alliance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and work out of DRR’s Indianapolis shop in preparation for this year’s race. Team manager Larry Curry will also be on the pit box as Chaves’ race strategist, while Matt Curry will serve as his race engineer.
Although the goal is a solid outing in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the bigger picture is to build the program into something that can compete on the tour fulltime.
“That’s the plan, right? We’re not doing this just to be a ‘one-hit’ wonder,” said Chaves, the 2014 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion who has made 23 Verizon IndyCar Series starts over the past two seasons.
“We want to be in it for the long term. My chats with (team owner) Mike Harding, he’s really passionate about this and he told me he wants to be the next Chip Ganassi. He wants to build the next race-winning, championship-contending team.
“We understand that doesn’t happen overnight, but essentially we’re looking at it long term.”
That plan could get thrust into action soon after the Indianapolis 500 should everything fall the right way.
“Yeah, I think you can expect us to probably show up at some of the other ovals,” said Chaves. “Texas and Pocono come to mind.”
Chaves earned Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season with Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian. Top finishes were within reach, including a phenomenal run at Pocono Raceway when he started 16th and climbed to the front of the field, leading 31 laps before suffering a mechanical failure. Despite not getting the desired results, Chaves benefited from the experience.
“With Bryan (Herta, team owner), I kind of had a team that was based around me,” said Chaves. “It was a rookie year, so we understood the growing pains that came with that, but with that said, we could have won Pocono. We had some really good pace at a couple of other places.
“Whatever it may be, we knew we had that potential and when things fell apart before the beginning of 2016, it left me in a really tough situation where I had nothing to look forward to and nothing to prepare for. All I could do was prepare myself physically to put myself in the best condition possible for when I get that opportunity, which I did with Dale Coyne Racing.”
Chaves joined the Coyne team for seven races, starting with the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but never qualified better than 18th and didn’t finish better than 12th.
“We were very competitive in May,” said Chaves. “We struggled in the race with the conditions, but I think we had a shot at the top 10. After that, though, it never came together for me. I never felt like I either had the equipment or that I was delivering at the level that I know I can because of everything that had been going on in the offseason and how that deal came up very sudden without any preparation.
“It just felt like it wasn’t the right timing. Obviously, being in a car is better than not being, but it wasn’t the right timing or the right situation for me.”
That’s why Chaves feels better prepared this year, even with a new team.
“Being with Harding Racing, we’ve got time, we’ve been preparing for a while and, if I’m honest, I’ve got to look at it as this is my best shot I have ever had of winning the Indy 500.
“If we’re not in it to win it, then why be here at all?”