The question entering the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series relating to Max Chilton is simple. Did he earn a second year with Chip Ganassi Racing based on merit, or on money?
Those believing what he did on track this year was enough to receive a second-year to prove his worth aren’t looking down on the results. In his rookie campaign, he posted top ten finishes at Phoenix International Raceway and Watkins Glen International, plus coupled with only three did-not finish efforts.
On the other side of the coin, critics point to his lucrative sponsorship deal with Gallagher Investments as a means to cover some of the funds lost by the discontinuation of super store chain Target’s backing of the team as the main reason for the ex-Formula One pilot’s return. Recall Sage Karam in 2015 – he posted similar results but was not retained by Chip Ganassi Racing for 2016.
Regardless of whether one of the two points of view triumphed over the other, one reality is clear for the 25-year old in 2017 and beyond: his future is far from a solid one. If indeed Chilton struggles to better or even match his 2016 output, it could be what pulls the plug from the socket. With the talent present in each level of the Mazda Road to Indy pyramid, plus a large number of drivers who were unable to secure full time rides for 2017 also in waiting, Chilton may find himself left on the outside. No results and Ganassi look elsewhere for a new fourth driver in 2018, especially if a new sponsor to fill Target’s void is added to the pot.
Although Chilton did avoid trouble in most of the 16 races run in 2016, he only placed 19th on the final points table. Among full-time drivers, only A.J. Foyt Racing’s Jack Hawksworth placed lower in the championship standings this year. Equally troubling is the fact that despite failing to finish five times in 2016, Conor Daly who placed just ahead of Chilton in the standings, managed to post five top ten finishes this year for Dale Coyne Racing and finished 46 points ahead of the Englishman. Not a good impression considering most place Chip Ganassi Racing ahead of Dale Coyne’s squad regarding the equipment each can offer a driver.
In relation to his CGR teammates, Chilton was also outclassed in 2016, as Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Charlie Kimball each placed in the top ten on the final points table. All three drivers also posted ten or more finishes in the first ten places, and Kimball even managed to be running at the finish of all 16 Verizon IndyCar Series events. Even though it is not expected for a rookie to match all of the stats his veteran cohorts manage completely, year two must show improvement. Despite maintaining a hefty war chest of fundings, Chilton still needs to provide a strong output in 2017, if he hopes to remain in a full-time for a top team in the years ahead.
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