IndyCar: Gabby Chaves’ hopes are high for solid rookie season

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The hard work has paid off for Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves with a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

But more hard work awaits for the Colombian as he seeks to fully establish himself in North America’s top open-wheel league with Bryan Herta Autosport.

He’s the latest young lion to step up from Lights in recent years, joining the likes of Jack Hawksworth (A.J. Foyt Racing), Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport), Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing), and Sage Karam (Chip Ganassi Racing).

So what can help him stand out? Carrying over the consistency from his 2014 Lights title run would be a start. He claimed four victories and closed the year with eight consecutive podium finishes. Furthermore, it was his five second-place runs that enabled him to be crowned champion over Jack Harvey on a second tie-breaker (both Chaves and Harvey had four wins apiece, but Chaves’ five runner-ups beat Harvey’s one).

Still, Chaves recognizes that you need the total package to succeed in the ultra-competitive IndyCar.

“You got to look at everything,” Chaves said recently during IndyCar Media Day activities. “You have to look at raw speed. You have to look at consistency. You have to look at your technical feedback. There’s a lot of things that make a driver as a whole.  You can’t just look at one thing.

“[But] definitely, consistency is up there [in importance].  It just really separates the great from the greatest, the good from the best. When a driver has all these attributes, these qualities, it makes them a better driver overall.”

Last year in Lights, Chaves was a constant force in the championship, at first battling Zach Veach for supremacy (the two drivers traded wins in the first four races) and then surviving a late-season push from Harvey. This year, he isn’t expected to be a title threat as an IndyCar rookie.

But although expectations are a bit lower at this point, Chaves obviously still wants to show that he belongs.

“No one is expecting you to go out there and win three races in a row,” he said. “But definitely I think, as racing drivers … The mentality is always to go out there and drive as hard as you can. If you get to the race weekend and you don’t believe within yourself that you can win this race, that moment, your professional career is over.

“That’s my mentality. I have to go out every weekend and I have to think I have a chance, a shot at winning this one.  Once we get going, we’ll see where we’re at. We’ll just keep working away. Hopefully, at some point or another, we’ll be able to show our potential.”

It would appear Chaves will have his chances to do just that. His new boss, Herta, has said that he’d like to hang on to him for a few years and have both team and driver grow together.

A big part of that will depend on how Chaves jells with his No. 98 team, which will be led by veteran engineer John Dick. Chaves knows that good chemistry can go a long way, particularly for a single-car team like his.

“I think that’s going to be the most important factor in my success for 2015 is how well can I connect with my engineers, how well can I connect with my mechanics, with everyone around me,” he said. “If I have a high level of chemistry with them, if we have a good atmosphere in the team, if there’s good energy flowing through our tent.

“I’m not saying we’re going to go out and win the first race, by any means. We want to go out there and race as hard as we can, compete with the fastest cars. I believe we can do it. I believe with the right work ethic, you can make it happen, even in a one-car team, being a rookie.”

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.