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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Gabby Chaves

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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Gabby Chaves made a handful of starts this year in Dale Coyne Racing’s second car, rather

Gabby Chaves, No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 22nd Place (7 Starts), Best Finish 12th, Best Start 15th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 19.7 Avg. Start, 16.0 Avg. Finish

Parallels between Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam have existed for the last four years, since both were in Star Mazda in 2012. Karam beat Chaves to the 2013 Indy Lights title, but had to wait a year before he got his foot in the door fully into IndyCar in 2015 – the same year Chaves did as a result of winning the 2014 Indy Lights crown. Karam’s rookie season was a character-building one for himself while Chaves was arguably one of the top-10 drivers in 2015, consistently overachieving on a fraction of the budget in a one-car team.

With that as background, Chaves’ 2016 campaign was perhaps even more difficult to comprehend. Because if Karam’s 2015 was character building, Chaves’ 2016 was character, secondary character and external family-building by comparison.

All but promised another season with Bryan Herta, Chaves was the team’s lone casualty when a proposed sponsor reneged on its potential commitment, only weeks before St. Petersburg. Herta had to scramble to keep his team afloat and did so courtesy of an eleventh-hour partnership with Michael Andretti, and Alexander Rossi joining up as a surprise replacement driver.

Chaves, meanwhile, did what he could to keep his face out there. He was picked to test with Schmidt Peterson when Mikhail Aleshin had a visa delay at Phoenix. He attended the first four race weekends of the year in hopes of assembling an Indianapolis 500 ride, but then had a second sponsor bail on him in nearly as many months when a partner he’d brought to Schmidt instead left him on the sidelines.

There were many happy faces in the paddock when Chaves was named to the second Coyne seat just before the month of May began to replace Luca Filippi. His presence would in theory, aid the team’s four-car program with Conor Daly, Pippa Mann and the now late Bryan Clauson.

Chaves’ pace at the Speedway was impressive but the Indianapolis 500 for him didn’t go to plan. Adding insult to injury and pouring salt in the open wound, there was Rossi, in what had been Chaves’ earmarked car, using a Herta strategy call to perfect to win the race on fuel mileage. It had to be a bitter blow.

The rest of Chaves’ starts, there was little magic to be found. Penalties seemed to find his No. 19 Honda at every race, and a 12th place at the first Detroit race was his best result. A brief comeback at the completed Texas race also didn’t bear fruit despite being well positioned with a good amount of downforce.

On paper, Chaves and Filippi’s years in the No. 19 car were equally underwhelming, and both were made to look worse when 19-year-old RC Enerson completed his star turn in three late-season starts.

Chaves is still only 23, has an Indy Lights title and both IndyCar series and Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year honors on his resume. He’s damn talented, but hopefully this tough 2016 campaign won’t have left a black mark on him or his confidence.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).