Indy Lights champ Chaves enthused after first IndyCar test, DeltaWing season


Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Gabby Chaves got his first taste of Verizon IndyCar Series machinery last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It proved a natural fit.

Chaves, the Colombian American who captured the Indy Lights title on a tiebreaker over Jack Harvey at Sonoma in August, sampled Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ No. 77 Honda previously wheeled by Simon Pagenaud. It’s his second open-wheel test this offseason, having also run the new Dallara IL15 Indy Lights chassis.

Immediately, Chaves, who was one of three drivers testing for SPM at Homestead (Rodolfo Gonzalez, Rocky Moran Jr.), was on pace.

“It being my first time in the car, I didn’t know what to expect,” Chaves told MotorSportsTalk at Road Atlanta this weekend. “But I got comfortable within the first few laps, with the team, the engineer … I felt right at home.

“It’s impossible to compare apples to apples, but we had a good reference lap from Simon, which was the fastest they’d gone there. At the end of day, we were quicker than that.

“We made good progress, good changes; the most important part was that I felt really comfortable. It didn’t feel like my first time.”

Chaves returned to the SPM fold after making his Indy Lights debut with them in 2013. While seeing some familiar faces, most of his crew were new including engineer Ben Bretzman, who has not yet determined whether he will move with Pagenaud to Team Penske or stay with SPM.

For Chaves, who lost out on the 2013 title to then-teammate Sage Karam, he described how difficult it is to make the jump to IndyCar, even with the $750,000 scholarship available to help in the budget-gathering process.

“Yeah man, what really sinks in, I didn’t realize how tough it would be to put together a season without the scholarship,” Chaves explained.

“I always thought even if I didn’t win, I would have a good possibility to move up. But now I’ve experienced how tough it is – even with the scholarship. It’s sunk in that I’ve won, and that gives me a much bigger opportunity to help me move up.”

Chaves will race at least the Indianapolis 500 and a likely partial season deal, while still working towards a full-season program.

Where is a question to be determined. Per the Indianapolis Star and other sources to MST, James Hinchcliffe’s deal with SPM is expected to be announced Tuesday, and assuming Mikhail Aleshin returns from his Fontana injuries, that would fill up SPM’s two full-season cars.

A potential third car for SPM could be an option – the team has run a third in each of the 2013 and 2014 Indianapolis 500s – or Chaves could work to bring budget to another open slot on the grid.

Meanwhile, in terms of his racing this weekend, he starred in his fourth start with the DeltaWing on the team’s home turf at Road Atlanta.

Chaves led a handful of laps while sharing the DWC13 coupe with Andy Meyrick and, ironically, SPM’s third driver in the 2013 ‘500, Katherine Legge. The team finished a season-best fourth overall.

“As a driver, anything with wheels I can get my hands on, I try to drive the wheels off of it!” he said. “This is one of those opportunities, part of a factory team, development project. We’ll look back in a few years and I was one of the drivers who helped develop that car.

“To me, it’s a huge opportunity to drive this car, and to be part of the Don Panoz legacy. He’s so well known within the motorsports paddock, to be affiliated with his project, means a lot.”

Chaves is working towards a return to the DeltaWing program for the endurance races in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, which are unlikely to conflict with any IndyCar weekends.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”