Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Indy 500 Preview: The Long Shot, The Rookie, and the New Team

By Chanda Healton

During the month of May, there is only 1 race that matters for fans of IndyCar It's 800 left turns, one winner and a bottle of milk! The Indianapolis 500 is just around the corner and everyone is excited about it, myself included.

A normal race has 21 IndyCars in it, but the Indy 500 has 33 cars, meaning there are 12 drivers not normally in the field. Over the next few weeks, I will be talking to fans to find out what they know and what they think of these drivers. Today we talk about Jay Howard, Zach Veach and Gabby Chaves.

Nick Vincent, who is a young and talented driver that I covered last season says "I know all 3 drivers and they're all great talents! All super nice guys!" I expect to see Vincent in his own Indy 500 car by 2020!

The first 2 names you may not know and the last one is a man with a very bright future in IndyCar, if someone would only give him a decent ride for more than one race. Read on and learn about these drivers and the teams they will represent at The Greatest Spectacle In Racing! Who knows, maybe we will see one of them in Victory Lane enjoying some milk!

Fan  Nick Vincent with Jay Howard
Jay Howard is not a well knwn name to the average fan, He has never won an IndyCar race or sat on a pole, but he is the 2006 Indy Lights champion and he has the backing of Tony Stewart. He will also be teammates with James Hinchcliffe and (My favorite full time driver) Mikhail Aleshin. He will drive the number 77 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Team One Cure, who works with The Tony Stewart Foundation looking for a cure for cancer in pets, will be his sponsor. But who is Jay Howard? I have gathered a few facts about him so that you can get to know him as a person and a driver.

1. Jay Howard is 36 and was born Febuary 16, 1981 in Basildon, England.
2. Height: 5'10" Weight: 178 lbs. and he lives in  Carmel, IN
3. Jay Howard says on his website that his hobbies are: "Eating, Working out, Boxing, Karting, Coaching the younger generation how to be a professional racing driver and fulfill their dreams."
4. He is the 2006 Indy Lights Champion. He considers this to be one of his biggest accomplishments and said about it on his website "Winning Indy Lights Championship was also pretty special. With the situation I was in, the only way I would win the championship is if I was smarter than my rivals. Contact in the early stages of the last race bent the steering and there was no way I could win by outright speed. I had to look at the big picture—the championship, and not the race win. I did what I needed to do to be champion. And no, I am not going to tell what I did or how I did it, that's my secret, sorry!!!"
5. His personal vehicle is an Audi SQ5
6, His only Indy 500 stat was in 2011 where he only ran 60 laps and finished 30th

Career Highlights

2013 - Sports Cars, Karting
Named Maserati test driver
Finished 4th in the prestigious RoboPong 200 mile go-kart race

2011 IZOD IndyCar Series - Sam Schmidt Motorsports/RLL Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Competed in 4 total races (Indianapolis, Texas, Las Vegas)
Best finish - 15th (Texas)
2010 IZOD IndyCar Series, Karting - Sarah Fisher Racing
Competed in 5 total races (Kansas, Indianapolis, Texas, Mid-Ohio, Chicagoland)
Best finish - 22nd (Chicago)
Winner Robopong 200 mile go-kart race
2009 Firestone Indy Lights - Team PBIR
Competed in 6 total races (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Kansas, Indianapolis)
Four top 10, two top 5 finishes
Best finish - 4th (Indianapolis)
2008 IndyCar Series - Roth Racing
Competed in 5 total races (Homestead-Miami, St. Petersburg, Motegi, Kansas, Watkins Glen)
Best finish - 13th (Motegi and Kansas)
2007 Firestone Indy Lights - SpeedWorks
Completed in 3 total races (Homestead, St. Petersburg)
Best finish - 5th (St. Petersburg)
2006 Indy Pro Series - Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Winner Indy Pro Series Championship, Closest championship margin in series history (4 points)
2 race wins (Nashville and Kentucky), 7 total podium finishes
2 pole positions (Homestead-Miami and Chicagoland)
2005 U.S. Formula Ford Zetec, Star Mazda
Winner U.S. Formula Ford Zetec Championship
Rookie of the Year
9 wins (Broke series record previously held by Dan Wheldon)
6 pole positions
Winner Star Mazda at Mosport
2004 U.S. Formula Ford Zetec
Winner Infineon Raceway (Debut race)
2003 British Formula Ford Zetec, UK Formula Renault 2000
Winner British Formula Ford Zetec Championship
4 wins, 7 pole positions
Winner United Kingdom Formula Renault 2000 Winter Series Championship
BRDC Rising Star honors
1999 Karting
Winner Intercontinental-A British Open Championship
1997 Karting
Winner ICA British Open Championship
Winner British Championship
From 1988 Karting
Winner 7 club championship
100+ race wins
21 consecutive race wins (Junior Karting Division)
25+ pole positions

So what do fans think of Howard? I asked fans in the Facebook groups Elite IndyCar,  the following question and here are some of the best responses

.What are your Thoughts and opinions on Jay Howard. What do you know about him? (without using Google!) How do do you think he will finish in the Indy 500? Thoughts on him teaming up with Tony Stewart and SPM?

Scott Peters said, "Nice guy, but mid pack at best"

Tinnekke Bebout says "Anyone can be a dark horse at Indy. Rossi wasn't exactly considered a favorite to win last year. That said, Jay Howard has racing experience outside of IndyCar and is on a team with talented drivers, so I wouldn't rule out a shot at winning, however unlikely."

Gary Nelson "What I have read is that he is a nice guy and talented. Very unlikely to be above mid-pack, however. But, if he is moderately successful or better, he may someone to watch in the future."

Paul Boggan "Jay is a former Indy lights champion (06 i think) and ran pretty competitively in the 500 a couple of years back until a pit stop issue put him a few laps down. He is a solid driver. But of luck a top 10 isnt beyond the realms of possibility."

Philip Mathew hopes this year's pairing with Tony Stewart could mean something else. "Jay Howard ran Indy Lights years ago and had a few drives in IndyCar but nothing in years. The pairing with SPM, Smoke and Honda should be competitive but the rust will be an issue. He's a good guy, a good representative for the series and Tony's return to the important race there. Hopefully this means Tony comes in as an owner (and possibly driver) in the coming years as a moonlighting guy for ovals at a minimum."

Michael Harvey says "I have seen Howard run Indycar races and I believe he is a great talent. I hope he does good in the 500. I am thrilled that SMOKE believes in Jay. Hopefully he improves on his horrible finish in his only other Indy 500 Start(2011 I believe). I see him definitely getting a Top 20."

Matt Tramont  says "7th-9th place finish.... Howard will be a methodical driver that just tries to keep his nose clean until the last 50 but that will be too late to make an assault on the front... Howard is smart, he knows his place in this team and while most are saying he is a one off driver who has nothing to lose, he is going to show he is worthy of a full time ride still in indycar and can manage and take care of equipment. Dont get me wrong, if the opportunity is there he'll go for it, but he's not going to be the guy dive bombing corners in a fight for 6th with 5 to go.... I love Aleshin because he goes for it every lap but, like Sato, is usually a wreckfest as a result of that mentality. Hinch is an emotional and logical favorite and the team will put the focus behind him for the month..."

So what do you think? Leave me a comment and let me know how you think Jay Howard will finish in the Indy 500.

Our next guy is a young American driver named Zach Veach. Veach, who is only 22, will be making his first Indy 500 attempt for A.J. Foyt Racing and will be teamed up with Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz and will be driving the number 40 car with sponsorship from the Indy Women in Tech Championship. He is someone to keep an eye on during the Indy 500 and into the future! Here are some facts"

1. Born December 9, 1994 in Stockdale, Ohio. Currently lives in Indianapolis, IN
His book can be bought here
2. Began racing at 12 years old.
3. In 2011 Veach wrote a book called "99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16"
4. His first IndyCar start came on April 23 2017 at The Grand Pix of Alabama where he finished 19th.
5. He currently races full time in the Indy Lights Series and has finished in the top 5 2 out of the 3 years he has raced in The Freedom 100 Indy Lights race at IMS.

So what do the fans think and have to say about the rookie talent? I asked them the following question. Here is what they said.

Zach Veach will be a rookie this season with A.J. Foyt. What do you. Know about him? How will he finish and will he take Rookie of the year? When do you think he will come to IndyCar full time?

Eric Kalmus says "Great kid. Super fast. Got the Indy lights top speed at the Indianapolis race track last year when he hit 200 mph. I've known Zack for years even he faced against Gabby in 2014, then for Belardi last year. Great young man. Go Zack!"

Harley Graysaid, " Zach Veach is the only one I know anything about... I've seen him run some Indy light races and I always thought he had a lot of talent, so I can't wait to see him run in the 500... It was also awesome that he made his debut for ECR, just wish it was under better circumstances."

Gary Nelson said, "Seems like a racy kid. However, I would be worried that he could handle the physical aspect of an IndyCar under high G corners. I think with someone of his body type, he will have to bulk up and potentially be ripped to keep up. But, with his latent talent, his level of determination and dedication could overcome that."
Jamie Trusty Haddan said, "Great kid with a lot of talent! Also has an awesome and seasoned race strategist calling the race for him in Andy O'Gara along with seasoned crew with many of SFH former crew members! Zach is no stranger to racing with working his way up through Karting, midgets, and Indy Lights. With this only being his 2nd Indy car start, I dont see him winning but still having a good May! Good Luck Zach and the entire crew! Will be cheering you all on.....loud and proud!"
Danny Vaughan, who was crowned Conor Daly's biggest fan earlier this season, says, "Good seeing younger Americans make their way into the 500 though!"
Philip Mathew says "Veach is another Mazda Road to Indy grad whose had to wait like many other young guns for an IndyCar shot. Running for Foyt allows multiple options in terms of setup and data. Munoz has always been good at Indy which will help both teammates (Daly and Veach) immensely. Doubt he wins ROTY but a clean race is a win for a 1 race effort. Figure Veach could get a ride (money based) as soon as 2018."

And lastly we come to The New Team with a very talented driver behind the wheel. It isn't a matter of if but when the world sees Gabby Chaves for the talented driver he is. I believe he is a future 500 winner, though maybe not this year, but in the near future. Chaves has a passion for not only racing cars but also for rescuing animals! He is kind hearted and fan friendly, everything a team and the fans should look for in their IndyCar driver. So let's learn a little about him, then we will see what the fans think!

1.Born Gabriel Chaves Bejarano on July 7, 1993 in Bogotá - Colombia Weight 139lbs Height 5'4"
2. Chaves went undefeated in the 2006-07 Skip Barber Regional Southern Series. He won all 10 races
3. He has won at Indy before in The 2014 Indy Lights Freedom 100
4. 2014 Indy Lights Champion
5.Won both the  2015 IndyCar Rookie of The Year and Indy 500 ROTY

Stats from his website:

So what do the fans think of this young talent? Let's find out! I asked:

Gabby Chaves, Any thoughts on him and the new Harding team? He is the 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the year and one of the nicest guys in the sport, but can the nice guy win with a new team? How do you think he will finish in the Indy 500? And what do you think his future in IndyCar looks like?
Philip Mathew says, "Chaves is a class driver and person. Being with a new team (unsure of their alliances) will make the practice week crucial to whether they have a top half start or not. Figure last 3-4 row start and a hard work effort to get a top 15. He's got the skills (proved it at Pocono 2015) but the money isn't there."

Rick Ravon says, "Gabby Chaves is the one who likely has the best shot in my opinion. tons of talent and an incredible desire to win:"

Kris Kelleher believes, "Gabby is the one of the three with a shot at at top 20. He has talent and more experience with Indy Car and the craziness that is the 500. I love to see the others getting a chance to show case what they bring to the table. I am thrilled with the new team coming into the series as we really need more teams. It breaks my heart that we don't have enough entries for a real bump day and small fields at all the other races."

Photo by Ron Donohue
Ronald Donohue shared the photo on the right with us and says "Gabby Chavez in action at the Speedrome in Indy. Started 20th in the feature, finished 4th. 2015 I believe.  He was kinda " smitten" when we called his name and wished him good luck that night."

Gary Nelson says, "He is a hell of a racer, deep down. He impressed alot of old school fans when he got in that car in the Speedrome. I know Robin Miller loves the guy. I see him finishing somewhere between 10 and 15th if I was to guess."

Asher Fair believes, "He sure can win! In his rookie season in the final super speedway race of the year, he was leading late at Pocono and would've at least had a top 3 had it not been for an engine failure."

Paul Reams said. "Glad to see him in a ride. He's a good young racer. Would love to see this team become full time in IndyCar."

So there you have it, three drivers that you may not know all that well, three drivers to watch during the Indy 500 May 28 2017. The Long Shot, The Rookie and the new team, but one person said it best out of everyone!

Brian Ditmer said "Hey. I was there last year if you start the race..You have got a chance of winning!"

Who will you be watching for come Indy 500? Let me know in comments! 

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