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IndyCar Open Wheel

Fantasy Hot Tip: Mid-Ohio

Well, things did not go as planned at Toronto for yours truly.

Following Will Power’s first lap exit and a did not finish from Ed Jones, not even decent showings from Simon Pagenaud and Max Chilton were enough to save me from dropping in the standings. Now tenth on the table heading to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, another bounce back is required to keep the chances for a high placing following the season finale at Sonoma in play.

With several drivers enjoying breakthroughs at Toronto that were not part of my team, the roster for Lexington, Ohio has been altered. Only the services of Chilton, who has fared well since his solid performance at the Indianapolis 500 is back from the Canadian experiment that went awry.

I have not completely abandoned Team Penske’s options. The fact that Helio Castroneves has yet to disappear from the championship chase is very appealing. While the Brazilian has not fared great the past three years in this event (15th or worse), he has reached the podium on three of his previous voyages in the Buckeye State.

Of course, the home court advantage factor comes into play here. Mid-Ohio is the Rahal family’s territory. The first generation Bobby Rahal has won here in multiple disciplines (sports cars, IROC, and IndyCar), while his son Graham took the checkered flag here in 2015. In addition to the victory lap, the son of the 1986 Indy 500 champion has placed no worse than fifth at Lexington since 2013.

With Rahal and Chilton’s inclusion giving me an extra room with the salary cap, I was able to use my final pick to grab Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. While the 2012 IndyCar Series champion has endured a painful 2017 year (he enters Mid-Ohio 13th on the points list), the Californian has only suffered two bad results at this venue in 11 starts. Outside of those, he has earned a top-ten or better, more than acceptable assuming the other members of my trio hold their own.

Before you select your team for Mid-Ohio, keep in mind how things have not followed the script so far in 2017. What may have worked in seasons past, may not be successful as odd as this campaign has played out to date.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

ASHLEY ASKS…… Max Chilton

Max Chilton enters this weekend’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway following a fourth-place finish last month at the Indianapolis 500.

Ahead of Saturday night’s event, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver spoke with Popular Speed’s Ashley McCubbin about his thoughts entering the weekend, his season so far, and more.

 

Popular Speed: What are your thoughts going into Texas Motor Speedway this weekend?

Max Chilton: Looking forward to it. It’s always an action-packed, fast race. I haven’t driven this new layout and we have very little practice before qualifying. So it’s going to be a quick turnaround to learn the new layout, but it looks better for racing and smoother. I can’t wait to try that tomorrow afternoon. It’s pretty hot here, the crowd is always good and there’s the big Hoss TV – it’s a good event and a nice coming back to an oval after Indy. 

PS: How would you evaluate Chip Ganassi Racing’s oval program right now?

MC: I think we’re doing pretty well after changing engine manufactures over the winter when this year we had a lot less testing with the new rules as you’re not allowed to do a lot of testing. To be leading the championship with Scott (Dixon)’s car and also see Ganassi right up there in NASCAR, the team is doing remarkably well. I am having a better year than I was last year in the points. I think Tony is a bit back due to catching some bad luck, bu as a whole we’re doing well with changing engine manufactures. We’ve had a lo of success with Honda in the past so I had no doubt that we’d get there and to be leading the championship already with one of our cars is huge. 

PS: What are your thoughts on your season so far?

MC: Pretty good. You can always wish for more but I’m well ahead in the points to where I was this time last year. I finished fourth at Indianapolis and led 50 laps, which put me in the top 100 in laps led of all drivers that have completed in the Indy 500 so that’s pretty good. But I can’t complain finishing fourth compared to where we were last year. It’s a remarkable achievement. I just hope we can keep the momentum going forward. We’re having a good year on the 8 crew. We’ve changed some of the personnel, and it seems to be working pretty well.

PS: Looking ahead to July, what are your thoughts on Toronto?

MC: Toronto is a track that I’ve only ever raced at once and that was last year, and they made a big change with the pit complex. It’s a very tight track. It doesn’t really suit my driving style, I have to admit, but the city itself is great. The drivers that have been going there for many years love going back there. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it a bit more this year than I did last year. I enjoy the city – the people are great. Honda has a big presence in Toronto so it’s great to have all their guests there. It’s great meeting them all. It’s also good to watch the different types of racing that go on there. 

PS: What’s the biggest challenge to being successful in Toronto?

MC: The biggest challenge is the change in track surface between the backstraight and then the really old, bumpy streets. A lot of street circuits in North America could do with re-surfacing as it helps. It’d be nice if they could re-do a lot of it. I come from Formula 1 where they have mostly new tracks, so it takes getting used to the bumps. But we raced in Detroit last weekend. They’ve done a lot of work there to smoothen it – about the half the track now, which is nice. The drivers weren’t complaining. But Toronto, it’s a very skilled track. If you can be quick around there, you’re very technically strong in the car because there’s no run-offs, very bumpy, lots of blind corners, and actual fast corners considering it’s a street circuit.

PS: How did you get your start in racing?

MC: I got my start in racing in go-karts when I was eight or nine years old, which is pretty much the standard route in racing. I worked my way up in single seaters – British F3, GP3, GP2 and then Formula 1. Then I went to LeMans, followed by mainly the Indy Lights program. Then went onto to do Indy Car this year and last year. But it’s crazy to think that I’ve been doing single-seater racing for a decade now, but it’s a great experience and I’ve learned a lot from it.

PS: What’s the biggest thing that you learned last year in your rookie season?

MC: I think experience. People seem to do well have been doing it for many years. You need the experience. I’m trying to learn as quickly as I can, but I think it’s mainly experience. You can put a lot of time and effort in, and the more time and effort, the quicker you learn. But there’s a point that you need experience more than anything. You look at Helio Castroneves and he’s been doing this for 20 years and had six top-twos in the Indy 500 so it shows the experience is key.

With a full season of IndyCar competition under his belt, Chilton will look to improve on last year’s 15th-place finish this weekend.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Fantasy Hot Tip: Texas

This week’s Firestone Fantasy Challenge battle plan takes us back to the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Many of the key pieces to the puzzle are back for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 this Saturday night. Despite going airborne in an accident, not of his own doing, Scott Dixon returns as the main cog this weekend. Although the Kiwi faded back to eighth after starting from pole position, the effort posted by teammate Max Chilton showed what could have happened had Dixon been in play at the finish.

The same view can be taken for Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. Both were fixing to get in the mix during the final 50 laps at the Brickyard, only to each hit trouble. Hunter-Reay was the first domino to fall, suffering the first of three engine failures suffered by Honda pilots on May 28th. Rossi was much more of a threat based on pace as opposed to strategy when he won in 2016. One poor pit stop, however, ruined any hopes of a repeat win, despite a desperate charge to salvage a top-ten output.

While the numbers favor a Honda-powered winner on Saturday night, some Chevrolet drivers still merit a selection. One that stands out is Ed Carpenter, a former winner at Texas Motor Speedway. The Speedway, Indiana-native must show more consistency and aggression if he is to repeat his 2014 triumph.

Among other solid picks, Graham Rahal makes sense. The winner of both legs of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix took the checkered flag first last year in Fort Worth. Of course, Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato is also a natural selection, along with runner-up Helio Castroneves who won at Texas in 2013.

Three more risky draftees are Ed Jones, Max Chilton, and Gabby Chaves. Jones placed third at Indianapolis, a result that could have been higher if not for the Dubai-resident running with a broken front nosecone during the final stint. Chilton led more laps than anyone at the Brickyard, but needed an off-sequence pit strategy to get into the picture. Chaves managed to claim a ninth-place effort for the brand new Harding Racing organization last month, and if attrition influences things on Saturday, the Colombian could pick up the pieces.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Career Days For Chilton, Jones In 101st Indianapolis 500

Every so often the Indianapolis 500 produces a day to remember for one or more drivers who have yet to make an impact on the Verizon IndyCar Series trail.

In a race marred by ten caution flags and only 19 cars running at the conclusion, Dale Coyne Racing newcomer Ed Jones and Chip Ganassi sophomore Max Chilton were each within range at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of putting on the winner’s wreath and taking a sip of milk.

Jones’ Sunday output at the Brickyard was the continuation of a brilliant IndyCar Series debut year after earning a full-time ride following a championship-clinching effort in the Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires series a year ago. The Dubai-based pilot overcame early adversity to secure a third-place finish.

“It was a great race for us,” said Jones following the checkered flag. “The race was so up and down for us. Solid start. We were running in the top 10, 11, for most of the first half.”

Then came the potential roadblock. While trying to avoid Scott Dixon and Jay Howard’s massive accident on Lap 52, the Boy Scouts of America Honda pilot suffered damage, forcing his pit crew to replace the entire rear-wing assembly. Seemingly out of contention entering the second phase of the event, the DCR team used a clever strategy call to flip the order in their favor.

“We actually pitted right before (the eighth caution flag), so it put us near the front,” explained Jones. “I actually damaged my front wing (in the latter stages), had a big hole in it. My legs got pretty cold, to be honest. I had wind blowing into them like crazy. Also created a lot of drag.”

The one thing that saved the effort despite the new personal demon was the Honda power behind him. Even with fellow runners suffering from reliability woes late on Sunday, the rookie was able to avoid the same maladies to secure the podium performance. The result represents the third top-ten in 2017 for Jones, vaulting him to ninth on the current IndyCar points table.

For Chilton, he took on the role of potential winner at CGR that before the battle began seem destined for his Indy 500-winning teammates Dixon and Tony Kanaan. With the Iceman wrecked and TK unable to take the lead at any point during the 200 laps, a similar plan B tact taken by his former Indy Lights co-pilot at Carlin Racing. The decision suddenly propelled the second-year Indy starter into the conversation.

Taking advantage of the same caution flag that Jones utilized, the Gallagher Investments Honda chauffeur turned an improbable 40-lap fuel stint; into a pathway to the finish without a late-race splash for gas.

Thrust into the number one position for the next 30 laps, Chiton’s stay on top of the scoring pylon finally came to a halt, just seven laps from the end when three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves overtook him. Losing out also to eventual race winner Takuma Sato and Jones, the ex-Midland F1 team member settled for fourth at the conclusion.

“You don’t win this race without luck,” admitted Chilton. “I led (several) laps today, once my car was in front I was so unstoppable. But you don’t want to be leading with five or six laps to go because they can draft past (as Castroneves) did.”

The outcome is the best outing in 22 efforts for the 26-year old, improving on a seventh-place score earlier this month in the IndyCar Grand Prix.

While most spectators may forget their achievements on this day, the showings by both Jones and Chilton prove the Indianapolis 500 has a become a race capable of putting an unknown name into the spotlight.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Phoenix

Indycar_Power_Rankings_logo

Throughout the season, POPULAR SPEED will rank the top-10 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series following each event. Feel free to comment on the story at the POPULAR SPEED Facebook page.

Is Simon Pagenaud returning to his role as the rabbit of the Verizon IndyCar Series? Following his first win of 2017 at Phoenix, the Frenchman is headed toward recasting a sequel. However, coming into the fourth round sixth in the driver rankings, it is impossible to move all the way to the top.

Looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500, POPULAR SPEED has extended our IndyCar team rankings to reflect those who will make their lone appearance at the Brickyard.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Phoenix showed the remainder of the IndyCar grid what a five-car Team Penske could do when the transporters reach Gasoline Alley. Pagenaud won at Phoenix and any of his four teammates, including two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, are capable of adding their face to the Borg-Warner Trophy on May 28th.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

Honda’s failure to figure out Phoenix derailed Ganassi’s performance in Arizona; however, if the pace the Japanese manufacturer showed last year at Indy can be replicated, good finishes from Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Charlie Kimball are possible. It is probably too early to add Max Chilton as a serious challenger though.

3. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

12th was the best SPM could manage from James Hinchcliffe; but, Mikhail Aleshin’s elimination on the lap puts a question mark on the table. It is tough to move them ahead of DCR based on last weekend, but on potential looking ahead to Indy, Schmidt in the words of former Price is Right host Bob Barker, “is the bigger bargain.”

4. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

Craig Hampson was right – DCR is not a serious contender on the ovals. Sebastien Bourdais was another victim of the lap one pileup but struggled for pace in practice. Ed Jones also failed to feature, managing an 11th-place finish based on attrition. Not the news Indy 500-only pilot Pippa Mann was hoping to hear.

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

Another quadruple retirement for Andretti at Phoenix. The good news is with six cars track side at IMS at least one car should make the finish in the 500. How the rest of the six-pack handles the attention that Fernando Alonso is guaranteed to get this month will guide them to their climax.

6. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Ed Carpenter never made the impact that was hoped for at Phoenix, although J.R. Hildebrand certainly did. A solid qualifying run, coupled with a clean showing in the race netted a third-place finish for the Californian. While it is premature to tag the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet as an Indy 500 favorite, the car and its occupant should not be overlooked.

7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-1)

Confidence is dropping fast at RLLR, and Graham Rahal is not hiding that things look bleak. A good Indy 500 finish may depend on Oriol Servia at this point.

8. A.J. Foyt Racing (No Change)

The offseason signings Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly continue to be mired among the rear guard. The addition of Zach Veach at the Indy 500 should help, but just when Foyt could not fall any further down the list, here comes the Indy-only invaders.

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Unranked)

The combination of DRR and Sage Karam can cut it against the big boys. 31st to ninth in 2014 and a brief surge into the top-ten last year justifies their placement as the group most likely to rattle the full-timers club this month.

10. Harding Racing (Unranked)

Team boss Larry Curry is the perfect choice to lead a new operation, and you cannot do much better than hiring Gabby Chaves as the wheelman. Alliance with DRR means perhaps an equal level of performance.

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

Four top-fives in four starts to open 2017. No doubt about it, the Iceman appears ready to challenge for a second Indianapolis 500 win.

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

The Tennessee-native was not the best of the Penske bunch at Phoenix, but he should be effective when he sets foot at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in one week from now.

3. Sebastien Bourdais (-2)

Perhaps Dale Coyne Racing can salvage their month of May with a big push in the IndyCar Grand Prix. Once the scenery moves back to the 2.5-mile oval, the odds are not in the Frenchman’s favor.

4. Will Power (+1)

Power finally reached the finish of an 2017 IndyCar race without issue. A second-place finish behind Pagenaud was well earned and should make the Aussie a challenger in both May events.

5. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Even without the yellow flag, Pagenaud was looming as a potential winner. Although a third IndyCar GP win in four tries is signficant; the 2016 IndyCar champion has made it clear that the Indy 500 is the one he wants the most.

6. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

Last year’s Indy 500 pole winner should bounce back to play a role in the drama on May 28; however, based on his Long Beach victory, his best shot at Brickyard glory could be in the IndyCar Grand Prix.

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

Castroneves has been more effective in qualifying than on race day. The pressure to make history as a four-time Indy 500 champion exists, but expect the Brazilian to dig deep in his quest to get there.

8. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

A quiet sixth-place last week sets the stage for TK’s best chances for victory this season. If Honda regains its muscle from 2016, watch out.

9. Alexander Rossi (-1)

Rossi and his Andretti teammates floundered at Phoenix, leaving their month of May prospects in doubt. Probably faces a higher mountain than any defending Indy 500 champion in history.

10. J.R. Hildebrand (Unranked)

Indy’s hard luck hero added his name to the contenders’ list with a podium finish at Phoenix. He was in the mix late in last year’s Indy 500 until he made contact with Helio Castroneves.

Dropped Out: Ryan Hunter-Reay (9th last week), Spencer Pigot (10th last week)

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Bourdais, Aleshin Among Drivers Caught in Lap 1 Crash

On Saturday night at Phoenix Raceway, five drivers saw their race over before it truly began following a wreck on the opening lap in Turn 1.

Going into the corner, Mikhail Aleshin lost control of his No. 7 Honda, spinning around which left nowhere to go for the competitors behind him.

“Unfortunately, when we got to Turn 1, I felt the rear of the car went, and I just couldn’t do anything,” he said. “I was (a) full lock, and I just understood that that was it. I feel sorry for the guys that hit as well, but that’s racing. Very sorry to my Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and everyone that works on the No. 7 because I think the guys did a fantastic job. Sometimes situations like this happen, but we’ll keep moving forward.”

One of the drivers caught up in the incident was Sebastien Bourdais entered the event as the points leader, but now sits fourth in points following a 19th place finish.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We work so hard and try to do things right. We had a good position at the start, being on the outside, and I could’ve probably picked up one or two positions because I had a good run going. But then all it takes is someone who takes a little bit too much risk to ruin your day. You can take risks when you’re on the outside all alone, but if you’re in the middle, in the gearbox of the car in front of you, there’s a good chance that you’ll lose the car. It’s disappointing to lose the points lead like this, I knew we would lose it this weekend, but we’re missing out on some precious points. Plus, there’s a lot of damage to the car, and we didn’t need that.”

Also collected in the aftermath was Marco Andretti, Max Chilton, and Graham Rahal. It continues their struggles as they each sit outside the top-15 in points following four races. Notably, Chilton has failed to post a top-10 finish in his sophomore campaign for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“There was just nowhere to go really,” Chilton said. “I was sort of tensing because I knew four-wide on the start on a short oval wasn’t good. It was just one of those things. I hate going out on Lap 1, but I just spun to avoid the accident and got collected. Hopefully, we can get a better result with the Gallagher car in Indy next month.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Power Tops Barber Test; Montoya Takes First Laps of 2017

While the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule includes only one race for the month of March, the drivers are still busy behind the wheel as they took to Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday for testing in advance of the Grand Prix of Alabama later on this season.

As he’s done plenty of times in the past, Will Power topped the speed chart with at a time of one minute and 7.7518 seconds. The Australian could use a good run at Barber in April as a result of starting off 2017 with a 19th place finish in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Notably, in seven starts on the road course, the Team Penske driver has yet to finish outside of the top-five.

“It just shows how tight it is between Honda and Chevy now,” Power said. “It’s tough, man. We just went through a bunch of stuff (during the test day) to see what it does, and I think we got some good answers here. I think we’ve got a good car for here; I feel good about my setup.”

As Power noted, the manufacture parity looks stronger than ever as Max Chilton placed his Chip Ganassi Honda second on the charts, just four hundredths off of Power’s Chevrolet. Chilton is another driver looking for a strong run as he finished 16th in the season opener.

“Good day apart from Power spoiling the fun at the end of the day, but it’s all good fun,” Chilton said. “We actually were struggling a lot with the car all day, that’s why we took a long, long lunch break to sort of change the car. Then we definitely made steps forward, did a few fine-tunes. It’s amazing, you make a few changes, and you jump yourself up the board.”

Power’s teammates Josef Newgarden and Juan Pablo Montoya were third and fourth, followed by Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato. Chilton’s teammate Scott Dixon was seventh, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, and Simon Pagenaud. In total, there were four Chevrolets and six Hondas in the top-10.

For Montoya, this was his first time in the car this season as he was testing ahead of the Indianapolis Grand Prix in May. The Columbian is only scheduled to run two events this season currently – the Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. It was revealed that Raul Prados would be the lead engineer after spending last year at AJ Foyt Racing, along with Ron Ruzewski who worked with Montoya at Penske.

“I feel like I drove the car yesterday,” Montoya said. “It’s kind of fun. I’ve been out of the car since September, but I feel fine. I have a new crew, new guys, new engineer. It’s working really well.”

Rumor currently is that Montoya has a limited schedule due to being set for a sports car ride with Team Penske, but he said, “I don’t know anything about it. I never know anything. That’s above my pay grade.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Chilton’s Future At CGR Is Not A Secure One

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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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Chilton Aiming for Podium in Sophomore Season

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.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Chilton Returns to Chip Ganassi Racing

The foursome will remain together at Chip Ganassi Racing for 2017, as CGR has confirmed all four drivers – Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton – will be back.

The last confirmation came on Wednesday, featuring Chilton, with the addition that international insurance brokerage and risk management services firm Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. will return as the primary partner.

“I think we were able to build a solid foundation in my rookie year in the Verizon IndyCar Series with the support of Gallagher and the team,” Chilton said. “The learning curve is very steep here, and the field is separated by just a few seconds from top to bottom with really talented teams and drivers, which makes the competition incredibly close. Having a year of experience now to adapt to the car and learn all of the courses on the schedule is huge for us. Chip and Gallagher give us everything we need to be competitive and go out to contend for wins, so I’m optimistic for the direction of the No. 8 Gallagher team heading into next season.”

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.

“Gallagher’s first season with our team and Max allowed us to collectively work on a program that delivered results for them in their motor racing debut,” Steve Lauletta, President for Chip Ganassi Racing. “We’re excited to help them continue the program, reach their business goals off the track and expand their brand awareness through Max and the team. Having them come back for 2017 is a great sign for building the relationship into the future.”

Based in Illinois, Gallagher operates in 33 countries while offering client-services in more than 150 countries around the world.

“We are pleased to renew our partnership with motorsports leader Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series and to build on last year’s sponsorship momentum as we deepen awareness of our company and our brand,” Deborah M. Hecht, Vice President of Global Brand Marketing & Sponsorship for J. Gallagher and Co., said. “We look forward to a very successful and winning year for both Chip Ganassi Racing and Gallagher # 8 driver Max Chilton.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.