Colombian Gabby Chaves took all of the drama out of the Formula BMW Americas
championship on a cloudy Sunday at Elkhart Lake's Road America as the 16-year-old
Autotecnica driver stormed to a pair of race wins and clinched the 2009 title.
Chaves won the opening race of the day, wresting the lead from teammate Giancarlo
Vilarinho as he and Team Apex's James Kovacic went side-by-side for the front spot at the
halfway point of the morning's first race. Kovacic slipped back and Vilarinho was black-
flagged for blocking, allowing Chaves to post a 4.432-second margin of victory ahead of a
career-best finish by Team Apex driver Joao Horto. American rookie Michael Lewis came
home in third, with Kovacic finishing fourth.
The second race of the day ended a bit more abruptly but no less convincingly in Chaves'
favor. The Colombian emerged from a first-lap accident with the race lead, and since the
incident caused a lengthy delay for catchfence to be repaired, Chaves took the win after
following the pace car on a handful of laps around Road America.
The accident claimed the cars of championship contenders Vilarinho and Canadian driver
Gianmarco Raimondo, as well as those of Kovacic and Dominican Daniel Vela. Vilarinho
was leading on the first lap, but got a bit wide coming out of the Kink and went off of the
rain-slicked track, then sliding directly across the path of the onrushing pack. The Brazilian
gathered the car back up and got it back to the left side of the track, but that move carried
him directly into Raimondo. Meanwhile behind them, Vela and Kovacic saw their visibility
reduced by the flying dirt and debris. Kovacic's car touched wheels with Vela and was
thrown into the catchfence, breaking several sections of the fencing. Three of the four
drivers were cleared at the track medical center, with Vilarinho being transported to the
hospital with neck pain.
"I told the team on the radio that it was wet back there when we came through on the parade
lap," Chaves said. "I saw Giancarlo go off and was able to brake hard enough and find a
path to get through, and luckily I made it."
Chaves was followed to the checkered flag by Autotecnica's Alex Ellis, who scored his
highest finish of the Formula BMW Americas season. Lewis came home third in the second
race as well, and moved to within two points of the lead in the rookie standings with just
two races to run. Frenchman Olivier Lombard carried his Eurointernational machine to a
fourth-place finish with Horto carding a fifth-place finish to earn his third top-five result of
The win makes Chaves the first Colombian driver to ever win the Formula BMW Americas
championship, and marks the 12th consecutive race in which the young driver has finished
on the podium.
"I think Giancarlo has more wins than I do this year (six for Vilarinho to five for Chaves)
but it has been our consistency and our ability to be there at the end that has won this
championship," Chaves said. "You have to have some luck to win a championship, but we
have put ourselves in position to score big points in every race and that is what a champion
does. I am very happy to have been a part of the Formula BMW Americas series this year
and am excited to have won the title."
The 14-race series will conclude in two weeks as the Formula BMW Americas cars travel
to Mosport International Raceway for the last two rounds of the championship. The overall
championship has been decided, but the rookie battle is now a four-man battle as Kovacic
leads Lewis by two points, and outpaces Canadian Ellis by 10. Horto's trio of top-five runs
this weekend has gotten him in the hunt as well, putting the Brazilian just 16 points behind
the Australian Kovacic with two races to run.