Last year mid-summer, Max Chilton took the world for a spin of surprise, scoring the victory at Iowa Speedway in just his second career Indy Lights oval start; notably, it was his 12th start overall in the series for the season.
The victory caught the immediate attention of owners across the Verizon IndyCar Series and within weeks, Chilton’s phone was ringing with offers. From there, Chilton filtered down the offers, eventually narrowing it down to a pair of teams, noting there was only one team that he wanted to be – Chip Ganassi Racing.
Despite everything seemingly coming together quickly, the deal was only finalized a couple weeks ago between Chilton and Ganassi.
“Chip has a fantastic history in IndyCar, having 11 titles, and four Indianapolis 500s,” he said. “This is a fantastic opportunity for me. It’s been a difficult last few years because even though I was in Formula One and that was my dream, it’s frustrating not having a chance to win. You finish 13th, it’s disheartening. Now I’m with Chip. Not too sure on the ovals, plenty of the road courses I haven’t raced. But I have the chance to win. I’m looking forward to it.”
The year will bring a bunch of new experiences for Chilton as the only oval experience that he has is testing an Indy Lights car at Homestead-Miami Speedway, followed by the pair of oval Indy Lights last year.
“I’m sure it’s the same for many of the European or Formula One drivers that come over, you feel completely out of your comfort zone,” he admitted. “I’m not going to lie, I still feel that way. Given time, it should become normal. It’s not like I’m quick. I won a race. I spoke to Dario (Franchitti). He said it took a few years to become comfortable. I have to soak it up.”
Combined with not having driven an IndyCar on a road course yet, it’s certainly looking to be a year of firsts for Chilton, though he feels comfortable with the position that he is with having teammates like Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball to lean on. Another important person for Chilton is having Franchitti to talk to about things, as he spoke with Franchitti numerous times last year already.
“He was the one that said, ‘I didn’t feel comfortable for three years’,” Chilton said. “That makes me feel better. It should feel abnormal because it’s not normal to be constantly turning left. Might get bored with it, but I’ll give it a go. He’s a massive part of going to Chip. Top guy, great experience. Then I have two teammates who are just as experienced. I’m just in the best place. For someone that is coming across, not having a clue about the Indy scene, ovals, I’m in a fantastic situation. Dario is a great bloke. Good he’s a Brit as well. I’m hopeful he’ll help me succeed this year.”
The opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing could obviously lead to further opportunities for Chilton, whether it be within NASCAR or SportsCar racing. Chilton stated on media day that he is willing to try anything that is thrown his way.
“I think the most exciting project, which I’m not part of, which Chip is doing, obviously the full program is amazing, if I was doing Le Mans, I would love to do it again,” he said. “If he says, Happy birthday, here is a test at a global rally course, I would shake his hand and have a go, because that would be fantastic.”