IndyLights – Pocono: The Cost of One Mistake

Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach and Belardi Auto Racing’s Gabby Chaves were tied for the lead of the IndyLights Presented by Cooper Tires 2014 Championship as the series headed to Pocono Raceway for their second oval race of the year. With six races left after Pocono, the outcome of last Saturday’s race wasn’t necessarily going to make or break Veach’s or Chaves’ chances at the title, but it would yield an advantage to the race winner, and a potentially large advantage if either driver had an incident. Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s duo of Jack Harvey and Luiz Razia were well within striking distance if the leaders both had a bad day. The big difference between racing at the Tricky Triangle versus at the other superspeedway on the schedule, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is that passing is far more difficult. A good qualifying run could be the difference between winning or being relegated to an also-ran.

Unfortunately, the series continues to struggle for participation, and this weekend the IndyLights grid only consisted of eight drivers. Fully half of the grid was the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers of Luiz Razia, Jack Harvey, Juan Piedrahita, and Juan Pablo Garcia. The rest of the grid included the two drivers from Andretti Autosport Zach Veach and Matthew Brabham, Belardi Auto Racing’s Gabby Chavez, and Fan Force United’s Scott Anderson. Unfortunately, Zack Meyer of Team Moore Racing elected to not participate in the Pocono race citing personal reasons leaving the #2 machine at Pocono Raceway without a driver. The car count is disconcerting, but that’s a topic for another day.

Zach Veach would gain a slight edge over Gabby Chaves by qualifying on pole and earning a bonus point. Chaves would only manage to qualify P4 with Harvey and Razia in P2 and P3, respectively. This put Chavez at a distinct disadvantage at the start of the race, but with significantly more experience on ovals, it wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle. Lap 1 saw a lot of shuffling as Razia took the lead from Veach before they reached Turn 1! Jack Harvey, with this being his 2nd ever oval race, dropped back quickly as Chaves took over P3 and closed in on the leaders. Veach reclaimed the lead in Turn 2, but on Lap 6 he missed a shift that allowed Razia to close the gap that Veach had built and challenge for the lead. Chavez would move to the front after a failed attempt by Razia to pass Veach. With Razia and Veach running side-by-side down the front stretch, Chaves was able to get a huge draft on the two and easily make the pass in Turn 1.

“Overall, for what we had, I think we did a good job with it. I think we had a second-place car and we got second. I’m just a little disappointed; we were fighting with some issues with the dash(board). You have your shift lights that tell you which gear you can run, and just on that restart, I managed to get around Gabby (Chaves) on the exit of Turn One and my dash glitched out. I thought I could down shift, and when I did, I was already on the limiter for the lower gears. That gave him the pass and kind of set our fate. The RePLAY XD guys really worked their butts off this week, and I think Toronto will be our weekend.” — Zach Veach, #26 Andretti Autosport

The inexperience of Razia would end up biting him as the field came out of Turn 2. As his teammate Harvey moved to his outside, Razia remained a little too low on the track and put his left-side tires below the yellow stripe and onto the apron. That unsettled the car and caused him to hook the car into the inside barrier bringing out the only caution of the 40-lap race. On the restart, Veach pulled the same maneuver that Razia pulled on him on the race start to take the lead from Chaves in Turn 1. Mimicing the race start, Chaves reclaimed the lead in Turn 2, a lead he would retain for the remainder of the race.

“Overall a great day of racing. We were really quick in practice but we missed our qualifying setup which was very disappointing because I really believe we were the car to beat. It definitely showed in the race. We set a faster lap time than we did in qualifying and we were really consistent. We almost improved every lap until the last lap of the race so you can’t be much happier about that because the team gave me a great car and I was able to use it to perform to my top level. “I knew that I had the better car so I knew I had to make my move early and make it count so when Luiz [Razia] got a run on Zach [Veach] and they went almost two wide in Turn Three, I was able to just have a clear run through there and have a much better exit than they did off of [Turn] Three. Luiz gave me enough space but there wasn’t much more because we were already three wide so I just managed to squeeze by and grab the lead there. The safety car came out shortly after but I knew if I could keep the lead on the restart, we would be good. I definitely had an awesome car.” — Gabby Chaves, #5 Belardi Auto Racing

With a second-place finish and qualifying on pole, Veach would minimize the damage done by that one mistake and Chaves’ win, but he still goes to Toronto 11 points behind his rival. Toronto is known for carnage, and the championship could turn in a heartbeat with one poorly placed wheel. Harvey, Brabham, and Razia aren’t within striking distance yet, but one bad weekend for the championship leaders like they had during the Indianapolis Grand Prix and they could be. Toronto could be the setup for a huge championship fight during the double-header weekend at Mid-Ohio. The field may be small, but the competition level in the IndyLights series is huge!

Photos from Pocono courtesy of Tom Turk

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