IndyCar’s reigning Rookie of the Year is now without a race seat, as Bryan Herta Autosport has announced a last-minute alliance with Andretti Autosport that leaves Gabby Chaves out in the cold less than a month before the start of the 2016 season.
Per media reports, a Herta sponsor defaulted on its payment to the team, leaving the No. 98 entry with a financial problem. That led Herta to seek out Andretti – the team for which he drove from 2003 to 2006 – for additional support, and to drop Chaves in favor of another driver who is able to bring in more funds. That driver is believed to be Alexander Rossi, who lost his Formula 1 drive earlier this week.
The 22-year-old Chaves was the Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year in 2015, and prior to that was champion of the junior circuit Indy Lights in 2014. But great on-track performance wasn’t enough when financial considerations entered the mix, and now the 2016 IndyCar season may be without the league’s best new driver.
For his part, the Colombian-American is taking the terrible news about as well as anyone could. He referred to it as an “unfortunate situation,” telling Racer that “I’m not down. I’m a fighter, this is what I do, and I’m determined to come back. I’m going to do everything I can to be in the 100th Indy 500.”
Herta will now operate their No. 98 entry out of the Andretti Autosport race shop, keeping all of his remaining sponsors but also acquiring some of Andretti’s, after Andretti was able to amass some additional sponsors but not enough to run a full fourth car alongside those of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz.
The new alliance applies only to IndyCar and not to Red Bull Global Rallycross, where Herta and Andretti both also have teams (as does Chip Ganassi Racing).
While this week’s news is good for Herta, there’s a real portion of it that’s terrible for IndyCar. The fact that the Rookie of the Year can be reduced to a possible Indianapolis 500-only entry just because he doesn’t attract enough investors shows how sharply business is affecting the state of racing. If it’s performance that is most important – and in a perfect world it should be, because that’s your product – then there’s no way Chaves isn’t in a full-time IndyCar entry this year.
But instead it’s money that made this decision. And while that’s completely understandable (it takes millions of dollars to run a complete IndyCar season), it sends the wrong message. As IndyCar continues to search for names to add to its next generation of talent, are future drivers going to avoid the league knowing that no matter how well they perform, they could lose their seat to someone who is more marketable?
The previous off-season departures were perfectly understandable, given that not only did Sage Karam and Stefano Coletti not have enough backing, but they didn’t race that well either. But when a young driver is consistently good – good enough to win Rookie of the Year – there needs to be a full-time place for him on the grid.
For more on the Verizon IndyCar Series, visit the league’s website.