Last year, Gabby Chaves was on the receiving end of heartbreak when he lost out on victory in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 by just 0.0026s to Peter Dempsey in a spectacular four-wide finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But in this year's official Indy 500 support race, the 20-year-old from Miami was on the other side of a photofinish as he beat Matthew Brabham across the line by five thousandths of a second to finally claim the win at the line. Ironically, he was in the same Belardi Auto Racing that Dempsey beat him with in 2013, and had the same spotter as last year's winner too in Stefan Wilson.
"I don't know how to describe it. I am out of voice because I was just yelling so loud on the victory lap. I can't describe this. I am so happy." he said in the winner's circle. "The team deserves this. We deserve it. I have worked so hard to be where I am. Just to see myself get one step closer to where I want to be – I'm speechless."
Chaves and Brabham along with Zach Veach had been in control of the race pretty much from the start, quickly pulling away from polesitter Luiz Razia. The lead trio were practising various overtaking lines, and Brabham - grandson of three-time F1 champion Sir Jack who died earlier this week - appeared to have gained the whip hand over his rivals with a terrific pass in turn 3 with 11 laps remaining.
Brabham went on to pull out a slender lead over Chaves and Veach who were squabbling over second place, but the leaders closed up on the penultimate lap. Going into turn 1 on the final lap, Chaves was then held up by the Australian which allowed Veach to take second, and Chaves had to quickly regroup and re-pass the teenager before he could then set up a slipstream behind the #83 that allowed him one final attempt to pass Brabham in the run to the finish line.
"I thought I had a better shot at the win if I was in second position on the last lap," said Chaves. "I was able to hang on to the car. It got a little loose, for sure. I got a good run and made my way inside of Zach in turn 3, got a good run off of 4, and made the pass for the win. I'm happy for the guys. They deserve it. And, I am so happy too. It's going great. I can't wait to see what the future holds."
Brabham was understandably disappointed to come second by such a narrow margin. "I thought I had it on the last lap," he admitted. "They were battling [behind me], I had a little bit of a gap. They closed up on me right on the last two corners. I came out of the last corner; I thought I still kind of had it. And right at the very end Gabby just picked me.
"I'm a little bit disappointed not to win, but I'm happy I was up there and happy that I could fight for the win. I guess it came down to a little bit of luck. I just didn't quite have that last little bit to get the race win," he said, but still exhilarated by his first run at Indianapolis "It was incredible. The atmosphere is fantastic and there are so many people in the stands. My dad told me so much about this event. It's an indescribable feeling. It's really cool."
There was one caution during the race when Chaves' team mate Chase Austin hit the inside tyre wall at turn 1 on lap 15 in a single car accident. That forced an eight-lap safety car period while Austin was helped from the wreck, and he was driven off by ambulance to the infield care centre and then a nearly local medical facility for treatment for a fractured left wrist. He was reported as being conscious and alert throughout.
Freedom 100 race results
1 #5 Gabby Chaves Belardi Auto Racing 41:46.9680secs
after 40 laps
2 #83 Matthew Brabham Andretti Autosport + 0.0050s
3 #26 Zach Veach Andretti Autosport + 0.1446s
4 #7 Luiz Razia Schmidt Peterson Motorsports + 0.2193s
5 #42 Jack Harvey Schmidt Peterson Motorsports + 0.5510s
6 #10 Juan Garcia Schmidt Peterson Motorsports + 1.2085s
7 #4 Alex Baron Belardi Auto Racing + 2.0061s
8 #77 Juan Piedrahita Schmidt Peterson Motorsports + 4.6028s
9 #24 Scott Anderson Fan Force United + 20.4017s
10 #2 Zack Meyer Team Moore Racing + 28.0510s
Did not finish
#0 Chase Austin Belardi Auto Racing Contact on lap 15
#83 Matthew Brabham 189.214mph 47.5653s
on lap 4