By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
After a successful three-race debut stint in 2017, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing are set to leap into full-time Verizon IndyCar Series competition in the upcoming season.
The organization announced their intent to field Chaves full-time in the No. 88 Chevrolet on Friday, continuing a pairing that exceeded their own expectations in their first year.
“After the success we had in our three races of 2017, the next logical step was to take the team to a full season.” Team Owner Mike Harding said in a release. “During the off-season we have continued to build Harding Racing by adding key people to key positions to become a strong contender in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
Harding Racing made their IndyCar debut in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500, surviving the race’s standard attrition and surging late to claim an impressive ninth-place result.
Chaves returned with a team-best fifth-place run at Texas Motor Speedway, and ended the year with a result of 15th at Pocono Raceway.
Led by team president Brian Barnhart – the former INDYCAR head of race control and vice president of competition, the team intends to pick up with the same pace and success they showed in their brief 2017 outing.
“We are building on the success from 2017 and will take it to the next level with enhanced excitement in the upcoming season.” Barnhart said. “Our sole focus is on making Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing the most competitive team possible in our first full season. I believe we will be a strong contender team in the talent-fueled Verizon IndyCar Series.”
The team will also be bolstered by executive consultant Al Unser Jr. – a two-time Indy 500 champion – and team manager Larry Curry.
“We’re a quiet powerhouse,” Unser said. “This offseason we worked diligently to make sure that Harding Racing will be strong in 2018.”
Chaves, 24, will return to full-time IndyCar competition for the first time since his 2015 rookie season.
A graduate of the Mazda Road to Indy, Chaves earned that first IndyCar drive with a four-win Indy Lights championship campaign in 2014. The Columbian put in a solid rookie year, finishing 15th in the standings with just one DNF in 16 starts for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, but failed to secure a full-time ride for the following season as he struggled to find the necessary financial backing.
Prior to the leap to Harding in 2017, Chaves competed in seven races in 2016 for Dale Coyne Racing. All told he has one top five and three top 10s in 26-career IndyCar starts.
“I really can’t begin to express how happy and excited I am to get back on track full-time with Harding Racing.” Chaves said. “We built a really strong team in a very short amount of time in 2017. I’m looking forward to building on that and will be excited to see what our new team members will be able to do to take us to the next level.
“Most of all, I’d like to thank Mike Harding for believing in my potential and for giving me this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what we can do and believe we can have a lot of success together.”
Chaves and Harding Racing will get their first true test as a full-time team when IndyCar opens the season with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.