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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Max Chilton

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. Max Chilton made a significant improvement in performance and final finishing position this year.

Max Chilton, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

  • 2016: 19th Place, Best Finish 7th, Best Start 4th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 2 Laps Led, 13.9 Avg. Start, 16.1 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 11th Place, Best Finish 4th, Best Start 6th, 1 Top-5, 6 Top-10, 64 Laps Led, 12.6 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish

Max Chilton’s second season in IndyCar was a solid, serviceable leap in performance from year-to-year – under-the-radar but sufficient enough to prove his proper place on the grid after a mixed first season.

Chilton enjoyed an excellent month of May, with a great run from 14th to seventh in the Indianapolis Grand Prix, and an even better Indianapolis 500 when he led a race-high 50 laps before fading to fourth place by the checkered flag. Four other top-10 finishes between seventh and ninth provided a good improvement versus 2016.

Crucially, where Chilton also impressed this year was in showing his passion for racing in the series – something you might accuse him of lacking if you didn’t know him any better given his affluent background and appearance.

When Chilton was frustrated, it was because he’d felt he hadn’t got the chance to showcase what he could do. Getting taken out at Phoenix and getting parked at Pocono were two moments where he felt aggrieved at the circumstances as he’d been retired for reasons outside his own control. Finishing fourth at the ‘500 annoyed him, as well, because it fueled his motivation to want to win the series’ biggest race after getting that close. The two DNFs at Phoenix and Pocono cost him critical points, and considering he was only seven out of the top-10 at year’s end, they loomed large. His only real mistake of the year came at Gateway when he lost the rear end of the car in Turn 4.

Now married to his lovely bride Chloe, Chilton managed to make a more positive impression on the paddock in his sophomore season and was arguably Chip Ganassi Racing’s second most consistent driver in its foursome this year ahead of Tony Kanaan, although Kanaan had higher upside and ultimately better results. In an expected Carlin team situation, Chilton has the potential to flourish even more than he did this year.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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