Ryan Briscoe

Next up for IndyCar: The ‘Mega’ Month of May

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If you are related to or live with a race fan, and he or she starts to hum ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,’ don’t be alarmed.

Because for many race fans around the world, the month of May is effectively a second holiday season.

And the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is our Christmas/Hanukkah/Chrismukkah (remember that one?)/Festivus: The Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500, and Coca-Cola 600, all in one day.

What neat gifts. But for those who follow IndyCar, they’ll be getting one more present this May.

The Verizon IndyCar Series will still have its homecoming at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it’s gotten bigger – and a bit different. Call it the ‘Mega’ Month of May at the Brickyard, as the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on IMS’ revamped road course (May 10) emerges as a lead-in for our beloved Greatest Spectacle in Racing (May 25).

While I’m not certain that the GP of Indy has been able to capture every heart within the IndyCar fan base, I sense that with two weeks to go, some of the uncertainty has been replaced with intrigue.

It helps that the key players are itching to see what all that construction work inside the Speedway over the winter and early spring has yielded.

“It’s a new challenge for everybody,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay after his win yesterday at Barber Motorsports Park. “That’s the great thing about it, everybody starts from scratch there.

“It may be that the Grand Prix of Indianapolis will have its own type of setup. It may be similar to some tracks [we already race on]. We don’t know yet. That’s the challenge we’re all looking forward to.”

He and the rest of the field won’t have to wait much longer to find out what sort of challenge they’re in for, as the first test on the IMS road circuit comes Wednesday.

But while the GP of Indy is next up on the schedule, the ‘500’ remains the biggest prize of all.

Calendar-wise, preparations for the 98th Running don’t offically get started until May 11, the day after the GP. But they’ll begin in earnest one day before the road course test on Tuesday, when NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch and 1995 Indy champion Jacques Villeneuve tackle the 2.5-mile IMS oval.

Busch, the first driver in a decade to attempt the Indy 500-Coke 600 double, will be working through his Rookie Orientation Program for Andretti Autosport, while Villeneuve will undergo his Refresher Test (the final two stages of ROP) for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

It’ll be a busy two days, and it’ll give us an idea of what we could be in for this May at the world’s greatest racecourse.

So again, if you find that your favorite race fan is busting out holiday carols for seemingly no apparent reason, just give a knowing smile and be on your way.

However, feel free to call for help if they take to sipping egg nog. There are some seasonal lines you just don’t cross, after all.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.