May 27, 2014, 11:18 AM EST
The white flag flew at the 2013 Freedom 100, and Gabby Chaves entered the lap third behind Carlos Munoz and Sage Karam, then by Turn 3 had darted to the outside to make it three-wide.
He had it… and then Peter Dempsey got a monster run off Turn 4 to the outside to make it four-wide and edge past by 0.0026 of a second.
Chaves wasn’t going to let that happen again in 2014.
Armed with a year’s worth experience, and now in the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing entry that Dempsey passed him with one year earlier, Chaves again began the last lap in third. This time, he was trailing Matthew Brabham and Zach Veach.
A move for the lead into Turn 1 backfired, and Chaves and Veach slid up the road before they caught it and avoided contact at 190-plus mph. Chaves gathered himself, made it past Veach and was into position to pass Brabham exiting Turn 4.
From under Brabham’s rear wing, Chaves made the pass to the outside, and had just enough momentum to edge past by the line at 0.005 of a second.
“That last lap, I was trying to position myself in a spot where I could put myself in contention for the win,” Chaves told MotorSportsTalk on Sunday, two days after the race. “Luckily had a good run through 4, with enough momentum and speed to the start/finish line.”
How Chaves made it to that point, after surviving the near contact with Veach, was half a story in itself.
“Yeah man, that was a really close call, past the white flag,” he explained. “I went to the inside trying to tuck in behind Matthew, he entered the corner and I lost all the downforce on my car and slid up the track. So I was thinking, ‘Oh, great, we’re gonna crash.’ But it was a good reaction by Zach to give me enough room to make it. We settled in and said let’s go.”
Chaves needed the win from a mental and psychological standpoint as much as a statistical one following a disastrous Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend two weeks earlier. Chaves and Veach are now tied for the points lead, but with the Schmidt Peterson teammates Luiz Razia and Jack Harvey and Brabham nipping at their heels.
“We definitely needed this to bounce back from a terrible weekend at Indy GP,” Chaves said. “We’re back where we need to be. It’s a like a reset button. Use the momentum and good vibes, keep digging and do the best we can. If it’s meant to be, I think we win the championship.”
And a championship would be the next major achievement for Brian Belardi and the Belardi Auto Racing crew. Dempsey delivered the team its first win last year at this race; Chaves now has three in seven races thus far in 2014.
“You want to be with the guys who want to win the most,” Chaves said. “It’s about hard work and motivation. Not only Stefan (Wilson, his spotter), but also Brian and the whole Belardi crew, they want to win. And I’m determined to do it for them.”
Indy Lights has more than a month off before its next race at Pocono on July 6. Chaves’ next race will be with the DeltaWing Racing Cars prototype at Watkins Glen on June 29, filling in for Andy Meyrick alongside Katherine Legge.
If you want to relive either of the last two Freedom 100 finishes, they’re below.
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