Close Win for Chaves

The Freedom 100 for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is getting a reputation for whisker-close finishes. While this year’s margin of victory was about twice last year’s, it was still about as close as could be for Gabby Chaves.

Chaves made amends for a heartbreaking second-place finish 12 months ago by scoring a sensational last-gasp victory. Matthew Brabham led 28 of the 40 laps around the fabled 2.5-mile oval for Andretti Autosport, but had to be content with second place, by just 0.0050s – the third closest margin in Indy Lights history.

Chaves’ third win of the season for Brownsburg, Ind.-based Belardi Auto Racing vaulted him into the championship points lead, by a scant one point, over erstwhile leader Zach Veach, who finished third – a mere 0.1446s behind the winner – for Andretti Autosport.
In 2013, Chaves used the prodigious draft on the outside line to draw alongside previous leader Carlos Munoz on the exit of Turn 4 and looked set for the victory until Irishman Peter Dempsey took an even higher line and edged Chaves to the line by six inches. This time around, driving the very same Belardi car, Chaves pulled the identical move on Brabham to snatch the victory by perhaps a foot. The winning maneuver earned Chaves the RePlay XD Move of the Race Award.

The 12th Annual Freedom 100 had been building up toward the photo finish virtually all the way through a close-fought race held in perfect weather conditions in front of a big Coors Light Carb Day crowd. Polesitter Luiz Razia led from the start for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, but it didn’t take long for Brabham, who started third, to move his way forward and take over the point. The lead changed hands regularly as a pack of nine cars circulated in tight formation at speeds close to 200mph.

On Lap 15, the action was interrupted by a ferocious accident when Chase Austin lost control of Belardi Auto Racing’s No. 0 UNAIDS/Starting Grid car in Turn 1 and made heavy contact with the inside retaining wall. The Holmatro Safety Team was on hand almost before the badly damaged car came to rest on the Short Chute between Turns 1 and 2. Austin, making his sixth Indy Lights start but his first since last year’s Freedom 100, was extracted from the wreckage and evaluated at the Infield Care Center before being transported, awake and alert, to Methodist Hospital with a fractured left wrist.

Chaves served notice of his intentions by vaulting from third to first soon after the restart, on Lap 24, only to slip from first to third a handful of laps later following a thrilling moment in Turn 1 when Chaves, Veach and Brabham were virtually three abreast.

Andretti teammates Brabham and Veach led Chaves when the white flag flew at the end of Lap 39, but it was Chaves who emerged in front when it mattered most to claim the biggest win of his career to date. Brabham’s consolation were an additional two bonus points for fastest lap (47.5653 seconds, 189.214mph) and leading the most laps.

Teammates Razia and Jack Harvey exchanged places numerous times in the closing stages before crossing the line in that order, fourth and fifth.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Round 8 will take place at Pocono International Raceway, Pa., also in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series, on July 5.