Winning in only the second oval race of your career can open very promising doors.
That’s what happened to Max Chilton, a former Formula One driver, when he won an Indy Lights race at Iowa Speedway in just his 10th race in the series.
Chilton, a native of the UK, was competing for Trevor Carlin when he won from the pole.
“The team looked into it and they realized it was my second only oval race,” Chilton said at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Media Day. “In the following weeks I got contacted by every team. It was a filter system. I got it down to two pretty quickly. There was one that I wanted to be with.”
The filter system led to the announcement on Feb. 1 that Chilton would be the fourth full-time driver for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2016.
Chilton spent two years in Formula One driving for Marussia F1 Team. But the native of Reigate, England never earned a podium or led a lap in 35 races. Now he will strap into the cockpit of car owned by one of the winningest owners in IndyCar.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for me,” Chilton said. “It’s been a difficult last few years because even though I was in Formula One and that was my dream, it’s frustrating not having a chance to win. You finish 13th, it’s disheartening.
“Now I’m with Chip. Not too sure on the ovals, plenty of the road courses I haven’t raced. But I have the chance to win. I’m looking forward to it.”
Chilton, 24, has never set foot in an IndyCar and won’t until a one-day test on Feb. 10 at Sonoma Raceway. He will be only the fourth British-born driver in 24 years to have had a full-time career in F1 before journeying to the United States to take on IndyCar. Chilton’s predecessor’s were Nigel Mansell (1993), Mark Blundell (1996) and Justin Wilson (2004).
“I can’t really say how it’s going to be,” Chilton said. “I can remember the first time I drove an Indy Lights car on the oval last year. It was Homestead. I’m sure it’s the same for many of the European or Formula One drivers that come over, you feel completely out of your comfort zone. I’m not going to lie, I still feel that way.”
While working alongside Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, Chilton has already been mentored by one of the most successful names in IndyCar history – Dario Franchitti.
“He was probably on speed dial last year when I was on an oval, (asking) ‘what do I do now?'” Chilton said. “He was the one that said, ‘I didn’t feel comfortable (on ovals) for three years.’ That makes me feel better. It should feel abnormal because it’s not normal to be constantly turning left. Might get bored with it, but I’ll give it a go.”
For his maiden voyage in IndyCar, Chilton is in “the best place.”
“For someone that is coming across, not having a clue about the Indy scene, ovals, I’m in a fantastic situation.”