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

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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.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)