Given his pace and pedigree, it only seemed a matter of time before Max Chilton truly got on a roll in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series.
The 24-year-old Englishman certainly has been of late with Carlin, as the hottest driver in the series scoring podiums left and right while the championship battle rages between his teammate Ed Jones, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Jack Harvey and Juncos Racing’s Spencer Pigot.
It took Chilton five races before he scored his first podium finish at Barber Motorsports Park in April.
But in his last seven race starts, he has five podium finishes.
Chilton missed three races, with a fuel leak costing him a chance to start the Freedom 100, and then missing the Toronto doubleheader weekend due to his Nissan LMP1 commitments at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Even so, Chilton sits fifth in the points standings – ahead of six other drivers who have started each of the 14 races.
While Chilton’s first career win from his first career pole at Iowa Speedway was all about emotion, won less than 24 hours after the loss of his Marussia Formula 1 teammate Jules Bianchi, his double podium at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago was a more straightforward affair.
It came after a test at the end of June produced limited dry running and left him with almost no preparation heading into the race weekend.
“It’s a very unique track,” Chilton said during the post-race press conference at Mid-Ohio. “We came and test about four weeks ago and we had three dry laps in the morning and it was literally like we were on ice, it was so low grip and then it rained.
“So we haven’t done any testing really and it is an awesome track. The problem is it’s shiny surface, so at times it rubs in hugely, but in other areas, there’s just no grip.”
Chilton emerged second in the first race of the weekend after starting sixth, surviving a chaotic race when all three title contenders had issues.
“It was one of those races where everything went as planned… I did a couple of good overtakes and a couple of people came off in front of me. It was a pretty good race,” Chilton said.
“We were slightly at the back when we qualified. I gave the best lap of the year and we were only P6. We decided not to change anything for the race because we didn’t have much rubber in and it actually worked really well.”
On Sunday, Chilton was second again, this time behind Sean Rayhall instead of RC Enerson, again seizing his opportunities when he had the chance.
“I had really good fun out there today. I was trying to be easy on my race car today because I knew we had two championship contenders at the front, so I knew someone was going to kick off and usually if it doesn’t kickoff, they tend to stay on track,” he said.
“So then I thought I’ll keep my boost and… at one point I had 41 or 42 seconds of boost saved up, but they both went off and so I just had 10 or 15 laps at the end to keep using boost every lap. That’s when I started to close in a bit.”
The momentum, as mentioned, is evident – and Chilton should be able to continue it at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, a track he has past experience at.
A then 16-year-old Chilton showed up at the track in 2007 to race in the American Le Mans Series race, but wound up being told he was too young, so he instead raced in Star Mazda.
“Momentum doesn’t hurt anyone, so it’s good for the team…to get the win there (at Iowa), we’ve come from that straight ahead, never having been here (Mid-Ohio) before, but I love this track,” Chilton said of the Mid-Ohio weekend.
“It reminds me of where I started off on the British circuit…a crescent line where you can’t see much, you can’t go off because it’s just grass and gravel.”
Chilton’s been a welcome addition to the Indy Lights field this season. At our last “let’s discuss next year” chat, he told me in Le Mans he wasn’t sure where things stood for next year as he’s balanced the Nissan and Carlin commitments.
However, with Nissan having announced it will focus on testing its LMP1 GT-R LM NISMO for an extended time period and with no race return set, it would be great to see Chilton and Carlin continue their American efforts for another season.