The First Shot Of The IndyCar Offseason

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We are now one week into the IndyCar offseason and we’ve already had a major announcement for 2019. Last Wednesday, it was officially announced that Harding Racing was combining forces with George Steinbrenner IV to form Harding Steinbrenner Racing. What is known is their two drivers will not so coincidentally be the same two drivers that drove for them in the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma last weekend – Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta.

What is unknown is a lot more than what is known – as in; which engine will they run and how great is the connection between Harding Steinbrenner Racing and Andretti Autosport? Those seem to be the questions most people are asking.

For myself, my question is…What is to become of Gabby Chaves?

This is the second time in the last few years that Chaves has been unceremoniously kicked to the curb, after doing all of the startup work while driving for a fledgling team. Yes, Chaves is currently under contract through the 2019 season, but we know how that will go. They will reach a settlement to pay Chaves a fraction of what they owe him, so that he can search for that rarest of things – an open IndyCar seat.

If you’ll recall, Chaves drove the entire 2015 IndyCar season as a rookie with Bryan Herta Autosport, when they were still a stand-alone operation. Chaves finished fifteenth in the final standings, but had a good run on a struggling single-car team. He was all set for his second year with Herta, when at the last minute – Herta merged within the Andretti Autosport organization. Just before the 2016 season started, Alexander Rossi was in and Gabby Chaves was out. Now we all know that worked out well for Andretti, Herta and Rossi, but not so much for Chaves. He ended up running a handful of races for Dale Coyne that season, but nothing else. In the meantime, Rossi won the 2016 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie.

For 2017, Chaves joined Mike Harding’s new team Harding Racing. They made their debut at Indianapolis, where they had an impressive ninth place finish. They made two more appearances in their maiden year. An impressive fifth place finish at Texas and a fifteenth place result at Pocono buoyed their hopes for a successful fulltime run in 2018. It was not to be.

Finishing fourteenth at the season-opener at St. Petersburg and another fourteenth place in the Indianapolis 500 were the best results that Chaves and the team could produce. After a twenty-first place finish at Iowa, Chaves was yanked from the car so that Harding could “evaluate” other drivers. Conor Daly was in the cockpit for the next three races at Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Pocono – finishing thirteenth, twenty-second and fifteenth respectively. Chaves was back in the car at Gateway and Portland, where he put together finishes of eighteenth and thirteenth. At Sonoma, Harding ran O’Ward and Herta in two cars while Chaves watched from the pit stand.

As it turns out, Portland was the last race that Chaves ran for Harding.

Is Gabby Chaves one of those drivers that can help get a team to one level, but if a team needs to get past that level – they need to hire someone else? Or has Chaves been catching the short end of the stick on two separate teams? Personally, I think it;’s the latter.

Conor Daly gave Harding their best run of the season at the time of the Toronto race, so it’s easy to say that Chaves was the problem. But I don’t think it’s that simple. Chaves hasn’t been driving cars from Penske, Andretti or Ganassi. He has been driving cars that Scott Dixon and Will Power would have trouble getting up to speed. He put in a lot of hard work gathering as much data as possible as a driver on a single-car team. As it turns out, he was gathering a lot of data for the next guy(s) to benefit from.

So Gabby Chaves joins the group of drivers that is waiting for an IndyCar seat to open up. Where will that be? If Ed Jones vacates the No.10 seat at Ganassi, it’s because they already have a driver in mind – most likely Felix Rosenqvist. Scott Dixon just re-signed with Ganassi, so they are already full. Full describes the Penske lineup, as well. Andretti seems full, even without Fernando Alonso in the picture.

We would all like to think that Robert Wickens is back in the cockpit of his Schmidt Peterson No.6 car, but it’s just too early to know – so that’s a possibility, at least. I’m not sure if Sébastien Bourdais doesn’t return to Dale Coyne, that could be a possibility. But you have to think either Zachary Claman de Melo or Pietro Fittipaldi will return to Coyne, if not both. Conor Daly may have something lined up with the Air Force and the most likely pairing may also be with Coyne, but there is also Santino Ferrucci may be a Coyne driver as well. The long and short of it is – I don’t think there is any room at Coyne for Gabby Chaves..

Foyt appears set with their same two drivers from this past season. Just before the race at Sonoma, it was announced that Spencer Pigot is returning to Ed Carpenter Racing. It’s also possible that Jordan King might return to ECR on a fulltime basis, leaving Ed to run the Indianapolis 500 as a one-off effort. Carlin is full, unless they expand to three cars. Rahal is looking to expand to a third car, but that is only in the talking stages at this point. Perhaps Juncos could use Chaves, but does he really want to go the start-up route again at this point in his career? Meyer Shank Racing seems set with Jack Harvey for 2019.

As you can see, there doesn’t appear to be many options for Gabby Chaves in 2019. He is still relatively young at twenty-five; but have his chances for a full season ride evaporated? Maybe not for good, but it’s not looking good for next season.

Gabby Chaves may not be the most talented unemployed driver, but he’s up there. Not only is he fast in slow equipment, he brings the equipment home in one piece. Can you name a time when Chaves crashed a car during his tenure with Harding? I can’t. I know it’s part of the business for drivers to lose their ride due to circumstances out of their control, but it’s happened to Gabby Chaves twice now. I hope the next shot he gets is with a stable owner that is not always looking for a lifeline or a cash infusion. Gabby Chaves has already paid his dues.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “The First Shot Of The IndyCar Offseason”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Sucks for Gabby, he seems like a good kid and a decent driver. I’ve heard many times that Harding was running dampers and maybe some other parts from the old chassis so the car was not up to snuff and so we likely didn’t get a true indication of his abilities. Hope he at least lands a seat in IMSA or something, even with all the new teams it seems an IndyCar seat is still a rarity.

  2. Just part of it, I guess. With Indy Lights churning our at least a driver a year who gets some money to run at least part-time. Guys like Chaves, Hawksworth, etc, get lost in the shuffle. Bottom line though, if you can’t come through for some podiums at least occasionally, you aren’t going to hang around long. Kaiser, King and Leist will be on this list soon if they don’t start running better. Zach Veach seems safe for now. Pigot has bought one more season with his efforts. Hilderbrand is long forgotten. Ed Jones may be also.

    • I think you may be undervaluing some drivers’ staying power with what they can bring to the table, sponsorship-wise. Jordan King’s dad was the CEO of the parent company of the second largest chain of supermarkets in the UK (Sainsbury’s) for 10 years, so has a decent amount of personal backing that can see him through a season of middling results (Jordan, while showing bursts of speed, never did score a top-10 this season, which I think also reflects on the fact that ECR isn’t exactly a team that rivals Penske/Ganassi/Andretti or even SPM/Rahal for overall speed) and score him a second season. Leist also brings funding to the table from some Brazilian companies (likewise, Matheus didn’t score a single top-10 all year, though I thought he looked fine more often than not), and Zach Veach is in his ride because he was able to put together a 3-year sponsor deal. This is in no way meant to be a slap at any of those three guys, as I think they all showed themselves to be mid-pack (which is no faint praise, in the current IndyCar field) to better talents (Veach, especially, who I think could be a solid top-10 or 12 guy for years to come). It’s just what’s required for a non-proven top 10 talent to stick around in the sport for more than a year or so nowadays. Meanwhile, Pigot also ran pretty well (his season was coming around at the end, with four top-8 finishes in the last eight races, including a 2nd and a 4th), and has a bit of backing from Rising Star Racing that probably helped see him into 2019 (again, this is not a slap at Spencer, I think he’s quite good, and was probably flattering the mid-pack ECR equipment at many of the races this year when a good finish wasn’t the end result). Ed Jones, I believe, also has a bit of personal backing, that I hope can allow him to score another season, possibly in the second Coyne car (he and Bourdais would make a great team again, especially now that Ed has another year under him…though Coyne sounds like he could be trying for a driver with higher “upside”, like Esteban Ocon or Stoffel Vandoorne, if they are amenable to a switch to IndyCar) or elsewhere (maybe the rumored 3rd car at Carlin, since Ed did win a championship with them in Lights).

      A shame that there are so many qualified drivers right now and only 24-25 seats in the series…

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Chaves’ ability to keep the car in one piece and now numerous career starts should keep him in demand at Indy and if/when substitutions are required. Would be nice to see him with a steady ride, especially since he has at least some level of history of out-performing the expectations of his equipment.

    I would also like to see Kyle Kaiser in a car again. I was impressed with his poise at Indianapolis, putting a slow car easily into the field when he was being considered a bump or back row candidate.

    • Same, on all accounts. Given that Gabby and Conor both managed no better than a 13th place finish before the sudden and vast equipment/technical assistance upgrade that was made at Sonoma (plus, I think Pato O’Ward is a potential future megastar, based on his history in Pro Mazda, IMSA LMPC and Indy Lights, so I think he flattered the equipment even more) tells me that the Harding equipment was, oh, about the 15th best car on any given weekend (seven finishes of 13th, 14th or 15th out of 16 pre-Sonoma races would seem to back this up).

      Kaiser looked pretty decent as well, for sure. Four total starts (and those coming with a brand new, one car team, which amplifies the difficulty level a couple times moreover again) doesn’t give you a lot of idea as to his comparable talent level, but I think he easily comported himself well enough to merit more races in 2019.

  4. I am a big fan of Gabby Chavez and I wish him well. C’est la vie. He takes whatever life (= IndyCar owners) deals him in racing and does not complain. If my aging memory serves me correctly, he was part of the closest finish in the history of the IMS as part of a four wide photo finish.

    • I would love to see Gabby show off his skills in a midget at the next dirt track race inside the IMS next year. Gabby has raced on dirt before. I will pass that suggestion along to Robin Miller.

  5. What is the latest on Servia? I thought he had a ride for at least the 500. Am I remembering incorrectly?

    When looking at all the newer kids on the block, I think Zach Veach has shown to be a solid performer. Glad he has two more years at Andretti in order to further develop his skills.

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