INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not that Gabby Chaves wasn’t appreciative of his situation with Bryan Herta Autosport last year – far from it.
The talented 22-year-old Colombian American was just a rookie on a single-car team and so that presents its own set of challenges.
But Chaves rose to them pretty much all year, scoring both the Indianapolis 500 and Verizon IndyCar Series full-season rookie-of-the-year honors.
Now back in the series after missing the first four races, he’s in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing and in a completely different environment – part of a four-car team for the Indianapolis 500. His teammates are Conor Daly, Pippa Mann and Bryan Clauson.
“It’s the first time that I’ve worked with a multiple-car team during like an official event,” Chaves said Wednesday after ending fifth on the overall speed charts with a best speed of 226.889 mph.
“Definitely something that I’m learning about and that definitely you benefit from when you’ve got a lot of data to share, a lot of ideas and heads working to make you go faster.”
Chaves also admitted the learning process at Indy continues with every run. He’s a past track winner having captured the 2014 Freedom 100 in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires for Belardi Auto Racing, having just come up short a year earlier in the dramatic four-wide finish where Belardi’s then-driver Peter Dempsey edged him at the line.
“I think every time you come to this place, it never gets easier, you’re just a little more used to it,” he said.
Chaves was unlucky to finish 17th in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, his first start with Coyne, because he could have been similar or better than teammate Daly was on a strategy play.
He missed staying on the lead lap by roughly four seconds before a full-course caution came out. Had he stayed on the lead lap, he’d have likely emerged behind Daly and then-leader Helio Castroneves once the pit stop sequence cycled through, and positioned himself for a potential podium, top-five or top-10 finish. Castroneves ultimately ended second, Daly a season-best sixth.
“It was the first race back for me,” Chaves said. “We had the potential just like our teammate did. We were on the same strategy as Conor (Daly), we just got caught by a safety car at the wrong time. A few seconds difference and we would have been right there as well. We could’ve had a double team run for the top six. We just got unlucky with the safety car.
“I think I took a step forward as well, with this being my first race back and figuring everything out. It felt good in the car. We just have to keep working.”
While Chaves is only formally confirmed for the month of May, don’t be surprised to see him continue for further races in the No. 19 Honda as the season progresses.