Gabby ChavesIt looked like rising Colombian open-wheel star Gabriel ‘Gabby’ Chaves was all set to have a weekend of the sort every young driver dreams about; P1 in final practice session on Friday and taking the lead of the race by lap two in his #7 Schmidt Peterson / Curb-Agajanian /REDSERVI / Marca Colombia / Coldeportes/ Dallara car.

“Friday morning during the two official practices we were pretty quick most of the first session and for the second session we made a few changes over lunch that made me really happy with the way the car was handling to take P1 for the day. I owe that to the team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, because they have such a great crew, such great personnel. And they really are making this transition as easy as possible for me. I really owe it to them for the results we have achieved so far.” said Chaves, the young FIA Institute safety ambassador.

With track conditions slightly different for qualifying on Saturday, March 23, the order changed a bit, with Chaves qualifying on the outside of the second front row in the 4th grid spot; not what he’d hoped for, but not an insurmountable challenge for a driver of his talent. Next to him on the grid was Belardi Motorsports driver Peter Dempsey, with Sam Schmidt teammate Jack Hawksworth on the outside of the front row and Andretti Autosport driver Carlos Munoz on the pole. All four drivers qualified within 3/10th of a second.

When the green flag waved for the start of the Firestone Indy Lights season-opener on Saturday, March 23, it was Chaves who jumped into the spotlight with a brilliant opening lap that moved him up from 4th to 1st by Lap 2. Seizing the moment, Chaves continued to lead the race through Lap 11 until contact with another driver in Turn 1 that spun both cars and broke the input shaft of Chaves’ car, putting him out of the race. The other driver was given a drive-through penalty for causing the incident.

“I was leading comfortably for the first quarter of the race and we were just setting into a pace so I was looking out for my tires managing the race pace until the other driver got a bit of a run on me by lap 11 going into turn 1 but unfortunately he was inside next to the pit wall where the track is very dirty, and he locked up the tires under braking and slid into me. I think we had the car to win, but things like this happen in races, and even if the results weren’t what we wanted, we proved that we have the team and the pace to challenge for wins and the overall championship. Thanks so much to my engineer Chris Finch, and to my sponsors who helped me get here, REDSERVI, Marca Colombia and Coldeportes.”

“It’s a long season, and we’ve proved we can be competitive, so we just need to work as a team, and we’ll be in the hunt all the way through the season,” says Chaves. “I can see it’s going to be a hard year because the five guys at the front of field are very competitive, but every time I start a race I’m in it to win it. It’s going to take a lot of effort and work, but what I took away from this weekend is that I’m fast enough to win races and the championship.”

Chaves signed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ 2013 Firestone Indy Lights effort in mid-February, a time frame that only afforded him two opportunities to test prior to the start of the season. Chaves, a standout in his 2012 rookie Pro Mazda season with two wins, 10 podiums and two pole positions, joined fellow Pro Mazda graduates Jack Hawksworth, the 2012 Pro Mazda Champion and Sage Karam, who finished 2nd in the championship.

“Gabby has been successful at every level he has competed in, and in 2013 he should have all the elements required to fully show what he is capable of,” said Sam Schmidt, whose team has won the Indy Lights Championship six times. “What stands out from our initial testing is Gabby’s methodical and mature approach to driving,” Schmidt said. “He has a very strong desire to get to the top level in racing and understands what it will take to get there. I also think pairing Jack and Gabby as teammates will work well to push both of them to the front of the grid.”

The next race in the Firestone Indy Lights schedule is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, April 5-7.