LONG BEACH, Calif. – Gabby Chaves took the win in Sunday’s 45-lap second round of the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season, at the streets of Long Beach, ahead of Zach Veach by 0.6344 of a second. The order was reversed at the season opener in St. Petersburg.
For Chaves, it’s his second win of his career and first this season, also his and Belardi Auto Racing’s first series win on a street course.
Veach’s Andretti Autosport teammate Matthew Brabham finished third for his first Indy Lights podium, albeit more than 3 seconds behind the top two drivers by the flag.
Chaves took the lead from pole sitter Veach on the start, as Brabham nearly passed them both with a three-wide passing attempt through the kink on the Shoreline Drive front straight. Brabham fell back a bit as if the three would have collided, it would have mirrored Veach’s 2013 race, when his race didn’t make it past that point on Shoreline on the opening lap.
One of Brabham’s early laps saw him make slight contact with the wall exiting Turn 8, and he white-walled his left rear Cooper tire. But it didn’t affect him and he was able to press on.
Veach, meanwhile, was more than 2 seconds back from Chaves but methodically clawed his way back, tenth by tenth, over the course of the 45-lap race. He got to within 0.9418 of a second by the Lap 23 halfway mark, and despite getting within a half a second the rest of the way, he was unable to pass the Belardi Auto Racing driver.
Behind the podium, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entries came home in fourth and fifth, with Jack Harvey ending ahead of Luiz Razia.
Unofficial points sees Veach on 93, Chaves on 92. The series heads to Barber Motorsports Park in two weeks for the next round of the championship.
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.