Chilton follows up strong qualifying with solid seventh at PIR

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – We noted prior to Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix that Chip Ganassi Racing Teams’ Max Chilton is high on life with a series of good life events to go along with his best qualifying run in two Verizon IndyCar Series races.

He backed it up nicely Saturday night with a seventh place result, after a clean, smooth and mature beyond his years drive in his maiden oval start in an IndyCar.

The driver of the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet had of course won in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at Iowa Speedway last year, but Saturday night’s 250-lapper in an IndyCar was only his third ever oval race.

But he ran as high as fourth and never dropped below 11th, having stayed on the lead lap for all 250 laps. The only downside, he thought, was losing a couple positions on pit stop and at one point losing out to Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal on Lap 153 following a restart – hardly room for blame.

As Chilton related post-race, it was almost a nice feeling to have known he’d not only done a great job, but felt it could have ended even better.

“I’m really, really happy with it,” Chilton told NBC Sports. “It’s weird that considering this was my first ever oval experience in IndyCar, I’m slightly disappointed with seventh. Because we could have easily done what (Simon) Pagenaud did, and he got second. We had a slight problem with getting into first gear on a stop. A half second is the difference in two places.

“But it’s different. I thought we’d got Rahal in the last stop. He was half a nose ahead of me. There was a lot to learn. And the restarts were pretty mental!”

Chilton wound up doing a better job of fuel saving than he realized throughout the race, which helped pay dividends – particularly as passing was difficult to achieve.

“It was difficult. The last stint was easier with new tires. (Tony Kanaan) made it look easy. But it wasn’t that easy! I was just happy to get the result. I never did a lap flat, today. I was literally just fuel saving.

“It wasn’t really fuel saving – the team weren’t telling me to do so – but it was to a point as you couldn’t follow. I was looking after my tires. The third stop, the Andretti guys all stopped early. I got lucky twice where we were just about to pit, and then there was yellow.”

It’s funny Chilton mentions that; he benefited whereas Hunter-Reay lost out, twice, pitting just before a yellow came out.

He also earned praise from Ganassi driver coach Dario Franchitti, who missed Phoenix due to his FIA Formula E Championship commentary commitments, and Ganassi managing director Mike Hull.

Chilton unfortunately had an issue post-Phoenix en route to Charlotte, as he posted a photo of his bag having taken a beating on par with a car into the Phoenix SAFER barrier.

Behind Chilton on Saturday night of the other oval first-timers, Alexander Rossi finished an unrepresentative 14th after running as high as sixth; Conor Daly got his car feeling better and was a solid 16th, despite losing time after running out of fuel at one point, and Luca Filippi ended 20th after an early spin to bring out the first yellow.

In total, the four oval debutantes completed 992 of a possible 1,000 race laps – no small achievement.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”