IndyCar star Gabby Chaves returns to upstate New York with a different set of odds to play.
Compared to his last visit to the Sahlens Six Hours Of The Glen in 2016 to pilot the delightfully strange DeltaWing DWC13 prototype, the Colombian-American knows he’ll have a front-running Cadillac DPi-V.R to use and championship-winning team in Action Express Racing to steer him toward Victory Lane.
With AXR, the Prototype points leaders who’ve earned a pair of wins this year at Daytona and Long Beach, Chaves has been entrusted to deputize for the injured Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 entry alongside Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi.
On the bright side, the AXR opportunity speaks volumes about his talent and reputations. And on the flip side, he’ll also face incredible pressure and expectations to advance the team’s title aspirations with a quality finish after six hours of intense competition. Far from a free weekend to have fun between IndyCar rounds with the Harding Racing team, Chaves knows how much is riding on his performance in Barbosa’s absence.
“This is a team, with the car they have and the crew they have, that it’s proven that it’s a race winner and championship contender,” he told RACER. “It’s a great opportunity to join one of the best in the IMSA series and help them extend their championship lead.
“At this level, it’s expected of you to bolt right in and deliver their objectives. If they’re calling me instead of all the other ones available, I need to reward their belief in me and show them they made the right call in hiring me. But that’s something I know going into Watkins Glen. Nobody needs to tell me how much pressure there is because I already put it on myself.”
Chaves can expect a different team culture at AXR compared to Harding’s IndyCar outfit. With multiple championships to its credit, AXR is fully established with long-perfected practices that keep it in the title hunt every season. At Harding, which is in the middle of its rookie Verizon IndyCar Series campaign, Chaves plays a bigger role — especially outside of the cockpit — to help accelerate its growth and development. It means that while he’s at Watkins Glen, simply being a driver will offer a change in his normal routine.
“I enjoy the challenge, to brainstorm, to figure out what we need to do to be faster,” he said of Harding’s push towards competitiveness. “But, at times, it’s frustrating when you and the team know you can be faster and you have to keep trying different ways to get there as a group. And sometimes it’s fun to do something different like this weekend where you have fast drivers around you, and you go and just drive. I’m enjoying my position at Harding, but it’s just another challenge.”
Chaves, who turns 25 six days after the race, is also looking forward to getting a look at IMSA from the inside — after its shift to the new DPi formula, and the consolidation from four classes to three — since his last appearance in the WeatherTech Championship.
“I’ve seen the DPi cars, the technology involved is amazing, and inside the cockpit of the Cadillac, all the options are incredible for the driver,” he said. “And Action Express is run very similar to an IndyCar program from the engineering side, how the car is built, and how the team performs. It’s a different series, but you’ll find the way a DPi and an IndyCar are run is almost the same.
“And it’s great seeing IMSA become more popular. You went from a smaller group of prototypes when I was last in it, and the car counts are up, more teams, better drivers, and it opens up so much new interest in North America. All the drivers want to be there, and for me, it’s great to see that a young driver can get a chance to go drive for one of the top teams in another series.”