Despite steering issue, Chaves scores season-best P9 in Detroit

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Among the drivers who either equaled or set their best career results in Detroit on Sunday was Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Gabby Chaves, who finished ninth in the No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda for Bryan Herta Autosport.

The ninth place ended a string of consistent, but lower than hoped for results of 15th through 18th place finishes, where Chaves had finished in each of the first seven races.

Sunday in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans race two almost produced the same result. A mid-race steering wheel change – the same issue as affected Will Power – dropped Chaves down the order, and took him out of a potential top-five finish.

Still, it marked the best result of the season for the rookie.

“Yeah, it looked like any restart was always a close call,” Chaves told MotorSportsTalk post-race. “Our car didn’t feel like we were too good on full wet conditions but as it started drying we got competitive even on the wet tires.

“On dries, the car turned on. We got a few positions on luck. We made some overtakes. Unfortunately somewhere in that point our steering wheel broke and we had to make an unscheduled stop when we were already good on fuel to make it to the end. We were on the same strategy as top four guys. We lost a few spots there.”

The result capped off a trying weekend for the team, which struggled for pace and on setup on Friday and left Chaves 23rd and last on the grid going into race one.

“Having one of the toughest weekends we’ve had so far, not really being able to figure what to do figure out with the car, it was good to at least see we made the progress in the race,” Chaves said. “We made some overtakes and got our best finish. Now we go to Texas. We should be strong on the ovals.”

The result came as Chaves’ team owner, Herta, and spotter Mike Burrell were in Fort Lauderdale for the Red Bull Global Rallycross opener. Patrik Sandell and Austin Dyne raced the two GRC Supercars with Colette Davis in the team’s GRC Lites car for Bryan Herta Rallysport.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.