Chaves follows Mazda Road to Indy to Summit
 February 5, 2015| 
  • Series News

Courtesy - by Dave Lewandowski 

Familiarity with the racetracks on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will be among the benefits gleaned from three seasons in the Mazda Road to Indy program, according to Gabby Chaves.

The 21-year-old Miami resident, who claimed the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship, earlier this week was announced as the driver of the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian car. 

Indy Lights, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda conduct races in conjunction with Verizon IndyCar Series event weekends. All three series start the 2015 season March 27-29 as part of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. 

“Everything that I've learned so far in the last three years in the Mazda Road to Indy and the last two years in Indy Lights I've been able to apply to the IndyCar Series,” Chaves said. “Especially when it comes down to the first race on the ovals, the whole oval schedule that we have, I think that's where it's going to make a bigger difference. 

“I think it's not only in Indy Lights but the whole Mazda Road to Indy is coming along very strong.  Ever since my first year in Pro Mazda in 2012 I just started building on that, getting myself familiarized with the tracks, with the people, the whole atmosphere. Everything is different.  So just to be able to work from those years of experience just makes my transition to IndyCar that much easier.

“I think the ladder series is how it should be and it's preparing the drivers.”

After competing in the GP3 Series in 2011, Chaves returned to the States to drive in the Pro Mazda Championship (championship runner-up with two victories and 10 podium finishes overall) and move up to Indy Lights in 2013. He finished a close second to Sage Karam in the title hunt (one victory and 10 podiums in 12 races). Last year, Chaves recorded four wins and 11 top-five finishes in the 14 races.

A $750,000 scholarship to apply to a Verizon IndyCar Series program augmented the Indy Lights title. For 2016, the Indy Lights champion will be awarded the scholarship to use toward the Verizon IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races, including the Indianapolis 500. Scholarships are awarded to the Pro Mazda and USF2000 champions, too, to assist in moving to the next rung on the development ladder.

“I think the scholarship prize, it almost makes the deal happen sometimes,” Chaves said. “I think it's great that they're giving the champion sort of a head start into their IndyCar career.  Without the scholarship, it would have been very hard to make a deal happen anywhere. I'm very grateful that that program exists.”

Indy Lights enters the season with the new Mazda/Dallara IL-15 car, which received praise from drivers and mechanics following three days of testing last week on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course and oval. The preseason test program continues later this month at NOLA Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park.

Chaves joined three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, 2012 Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly in working through the development program of the car last summer/fall.

“I'm very happy with what's happening right now with Indy Lights and the new car,” said Chaves, who drove the new car on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. “I think that's something that the series needed, and definitely is attracting a lot of attention, even new teams from overseas, new drivers, drivers that have competed in Formula One before.

“I think that's great for the series. I think it's great for IndyCar as well because it's going to expand that feeder system.”

Chaves is the fourth successive Indy Lights champion to compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series (Karam made his series debut in the 2014 Indianapolis 500, finishing ninth; Vautier was the 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year; and 2011 champion Josef Newgarden enters his fourth season with CFH Racing).

Herta, the 1993 Indy Lights champion and race winner in CART and the Verizon IndyCar Series, said it’s important for INDYCAR (the sanctioning body) to have a progression of talented drivers.

“I believe in the importance of it, what it does for the development of drivers.  I really think that the new car is a huge plus for the series,” said Herta, whose Indy Lights team preceded his entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series. “I believe Gabby is going to do some great things this year in the car and I believe he's a guy that we want to try and hang on to and keep on the team for several years to come.

“I think we can build together and we can grow together.”

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