After an up-and-down rookie season, Max Chilton is getting another shot behind the wheel of a Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar entry in 2017.
The Englishman announced his return today, with the addition that international insurance brokerage and risk management services firm Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. will return as the primary partner.
Chilton joined Chip Ganassi Racing last February after making 35 starts in Formula One. Last season, he scored two top-10 finishes in 16 events, with a best finish of seventh at Phoenix International Raceway.
“Last year was probably one of my biggest years in motorsport,” he said. “Even though the speeds are similar to F1 and the cars aren’t hugely different, it’s the American way of racing. The racetracks were all very new to me, the street circuits incredibly bumpy and tight, the oval racing is incredibly fast and close.
“I’m looking forward to sort of hopefully doing better myself next year, and they can learn from me as well. There was a time last year where the speed of our No. 8 car was actually really good, especially toward the end of the year. It started off strong in Phoenix actually, qualified eighth, but finished seven. We go-to into the Fast Six at Watkins Glen. We’re going to hopefully keep that momentum of the speed going into next year, and hopefully, we can learn off each other just as much.”
The 2015 season in Indy Lights was Chilton’s first ever chance to race on ovals, which obviously continued into the 2016 IndyCar season. While he felt somewhat prepared based on the Indy Lights experience, he quickly noticed differences between the pair of series with relation to the size of the cars, and the competition being closer.
“Racecraft plays a huge part in the oval racing. Actually, there’s a lot of oval races throughout the season. That’s why I felt like I learnt a lot, but I’ve still got plenty more to learn,” he said. “Dario (Franchitti) is my mentor. He said it took him three or four years to master the craft of oval racing. I feel like I’m going to take in more experience with that.”
Despite the hard year, he feels confident in having more success in 2017, based on the experience gained and keeping some continuity with the team.
“When everyone knows how to work with each other, you keep that going,” he said. “That’s why time and time again, you see an ex-champion, he’s a multiple champion, has been with the same team for many years. You don’t have to spend that time learning each other. You just know what each other want sometimes without having to say too much.”
Chilton is making his goals clear going into the season, stating he needs to finish on the podium for the first time in his career this season.
“I feel like if we get the speed better, we’re in the closer part of the field at the front, then you’re going to have things come your way. I feel like as soon as we get a podium going, the rhythm will just keep flowing, and hopefully, we’ll get a win,” he said. “I really, really do want to get a win next year. If we’re doing that, we’re sort of in contention for a good year in the championship.
“Just to get a good start and keep the momentum going, that is my goal. I think that definitely is achievable. With a top team, I’ve now got a year’s experience under my belt.”
There will be some change, though, as CGR has switched from Chevrolet to Honda over the off-season, which Chilton notes is a significant change. He’ll get his first chance behind the wheel of a Honda at Sebring International Raceway on Friday.
“Ganassi engineering-wise are one of the best teams out there, if not the best. They’re going to try and get a grip on the new package as quickly as we can,” he said. “Testing is obviously limited this year, so we’re going to have to maximize what we have before the first race in St. Pete.”
Chilton feels the test at Sebring will help them towards St. Petersburg in both circuits being bumpy, relatively tight and hard on brakes. Notably, CGR is also switching to Performance Friction’s brake package for 2017.
“I was hugely glad Tony (Kanaan) picked those when we were testing at Elkhart Lake,” Chilton said. “To me, they make the best brakes on the planet. Whenever I’ve tested brakes before, I’ve always picked them. That’s a real big help having them onboard this year. Looking forward to driving them for the first time, and just getting back behind the wheel.”
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