IndyCar: Chaves’ day goes off course early, causes corner worker error, spawns memes

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AVONDALE, La. – Say this much for Indy Lights champion and Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Gabby Chaves’ Sunday at NOLA Motorsports Park: it was entertaining.

But unfortunately for the driver of the No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda, a 15th-place result stung a bit considering he was racing the eventual race winner, James Hinchcliffe, at the time of his off-course excursion on Lap 16.

Chaves, who started 17th, was ninth with Hinchcliffe 10th on Lap 12, before Hinchcliffe pitted on Lap 13 and Chaves a lap later on Lap 14. Chaves crossed the line in 13th on Lap 14 with Hinchcliffe two spots behind him in 15th.

“‘Hinch’ already had a lap on warm tires, and he was behind me. I wasn’t even defending my position,” Chaves explained to MotorSportsTalk post-race.

“He went around the outside and had plenty of room to give me. But he came down across and hit my front wing and I spun. Then I got caught in the grass, and there was nothing I could do.”

Given the rain made the grass akin to a swamp, Chaves got stuck. He received assistance from a corner worker to get back going, but then stopped on track once back on the racing surface.

The only problem was, that the local corner worker’s assistance was “unauthorized,” per an IndyCar spokesman to the AP.

It also spawned at least a couple memes on Twitter (second meme, as created by @PandaBoogaloo, was picked up elsewhere), and it was the first of six cautions that littered the remainder of the 47-lap race.

Here’s the video of the push back onto the track:

If nothing else, Chaves could at least take solace in another day of learning, and surviving his first rain race in IndyCar in basically one piece.

“We had pretty good pace. Obviously we made pretty good passes, going through the field,” he said.

“It’s kind of funny the guy we had an incident with won the race. So we were in contention for something!

“It’s just a matter of getting the experience and seeing what the strategy is to stay clean out there. A lot of times, it’s out of your control.”

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”