Road to Indy Graduates Ready to Make Their Mark at Daytona
 January 20, 2020| 
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Lights Drivers at Daytona 2020

The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is the leading driver development platform for those with a professional motorsports career as their end goal. In addition to the nine drivers who have graduated from the Road to Indy into the NTT IndyCar Series over the past three years, several of its graduates have found success in sports car racing.

Three former Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires standouts join these ranks this weekend, two of them making their sports car race debuts at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Rolex 24 at Daytona weekend.

Leist joins Piedrahita, Vautier and Miller at JDC-Miller MotorSports

2017 Freedom 100 winner Matheus Leist will compete in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance events on a JDC-Miller MotorSports team comprised of fellow Road to Indy graduates: Juan Piedrahita, Chris Miller, and 2012 Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier. The drivers will contest the series, starting in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, behind the wheel of the JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R in the premier Prototype class. The 21-year-old Brazilian gained his first experience in a closed-cockpit race car at the recent Roar Before the Rolex 24 test event at Daytona International Speedway, learning the intricacies of the prototype and the uniqueness of sharing a car – and track time – with three other drivers.

“We have a great lineup and I’m excited for the future," said Leist. "The Roar was my first time in the car, and it was kind of weird at first. When I saw the schedule, I thought it was great, that I’d have a lot of track time, but when I got here, I realized there were four of us to get through the car! I had to adapt as fast as I could, but the car is quick.

levitt-ROAR-1-20_02973“There were some things to get used to,” continued Leist. “It’s a different concept and technique than an Indy car or an Indy Lights car, so you have to be patient. There’s a lot of downforce but more weight, so the exit of a corner is more important than the entry: that’s where the time comes from. Also, there’s all the running at night. I did some long runs under the lights at the Roar, so that part has been okay, especially since Daytona has so many lights. I’ve heard that Sebring doesn’t have as many, so that will take more getting used to.

“Then there’s the idea of a race that lasts for 24 hours. I’ve done 12-hour races, and it gets quite tricky at night. We’re the fastest class on track so there will be a lot of passing, so there will be a lot to work on, to gain experience, but I have some very fast teammates and they’ve been helping me, so I will be ready. All of us came from the same background, from karting to the Road to Indy, and they’ve gone through the same learning process that I’m going through now.”

Gabby Chaves and Ryan Norman join Bryan Herta Autosport

2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves and series veteran Ryan Norman join 1993 Indy Lights champion Bryan Herta’s three-car Michelin Pilot Challenge team this season, campaigning the TCR class in a factory-backed Hyundai Veloster N entry starting with Saturday’s four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge event. The pair were among 17 drivers who tested with the team last month, earning the rides with impressive performances, and both acquitted themselves well at the Roar earlier this month.

Chaves has competed in several WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events over the past few years, driving the DeltaWing in 2014 and 2015, a Cadillac DPi-V.R for championship winners Action Express in 2018 and 2019, and a TCR-class Audi with JDC-Miller MotorSports for two events late last year. Norman made his sports car debut at the Roar, learning the team and the track while getting used to having a roof over his head for the first time. Chaves set the quick time of the weekend in the TCR class with a lap of 1:59.222 in the fifth of six test sessions.

Signing with the team represents a homecoming for Chaves, who drove for Bryan Herta Autosport in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2015.

levitt-ROAR-1-20_11868“It’s very hard to find a program like this, with the level of commitment from Hyundai and the entire BHA team,” said Chaves, 26. “I’m so blessed and happy to be here and I’m loving it. The car’s great – it’s fast and it handles really well. It inspires a lot of confidence, which in turn makes it easy for the drivers. And there’s just something about the diversity here in IMSA that I really like. IndyCar is great, but it’s one driver, one car. Across IMSA, there are numerous classes of cars and drivers, and you have to work together as a team. There are pro drivers in every car across all the categories so no matter what car you’re in, you’re driving against top tier drivers.

“I didn’t know Ryan at all before the Roar, but he really stood out at the test. I’m going to have a very fast teammate! BHA earned the drivers’ championship last year, so the manufacturers’ championship is our goal in 2020.”

Norman competed in the Indy Lights series for three seasons, finishing fourth in the final standings the past two years with two victories and eight podium finishes. Looking toward his racing future, Norman could not pass up the opportunity to run with Herta - and Chaves.

“I wanted to start another chapter in my career,” said Norman, 21. “I’ve never done sports car racing before but the timing seemed good. Bryan had become a mentor to me the past few years and it’s an awesome opportunity, being with Hyundai, BHA and Gabby. I think we have a good shot to win races, hopefully defend the drivers championship for the team and win the manufacturers title. It’s completely different from what I’m used to but I’m excited to start this next chapter in my career. It’s good to be open, especially at this point of my career, to anything, though I do hope to run IndyCar and the Indy 500 someday. But right now, this is my focus and I’m looking forward to it.”

The race will hold several firsts for Norman: first time racing a car with a roof, first time doing pit stops, and the first time at the iconic racing venue.

“It’s definitely different – first of all, not being in the middle of the car! The turning and braking points are different, the sightlines are different, and it’s definitely warmer in the car, but the power steering is nice. I’ve also never done pit stops in a race so that’s a new strategy, as is the idea of pass-arounds. There are so many variables in a race that can affect strategy rather than just running fast. But at the end of the day, it’s the same foundation so once you make those adjustments, it’s all good. And it’s amazing to get the chance to run at Daytona. The banking here is insane, you don’t really notice it until you’re standing on it. And the history here is amazing. I’m excited for the weekend.”

The four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge will air live on NBC Sports Gold's TRACKPASS Friday at 1:10 p.m. Eastern. The Rolex 24 at Daytona will be broadcast across the NBC networks, see schedule here.

*Photos courtesy IMSA Photo*

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