The circumstances are a bit different for Max Chilton upon his return to Iowa Speedway this year.
Twelve months ago, Chilton had only just finished his first oval start in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires a week earlier at the Milwaukee Mile, and wasn’t expected to be a threat on the 0.894-mile Iowa bullring.
Yet he promptly delivered his most impressive weekend yet on these U.S. shores, scoring the pole and his first Indy Lights win under admittedly difficult circumstances, leading a 1-2 finish for Carlin.
Chilton’s Formula 1 teammate, Jules Bianchi, had succumbed to his injuries a day earlier, and after winning the race Chilton led a moment of silence during IndyCar pre-race.
The Chilton that’s back now at Iowa enters in a slightly different state.
One, obviously, he’s in an IndyCar – but he’s one of two drivers who has a chance to defend his win from a year ago (Ryan Hunter-Reay is the other, having won the last two IndyCar races at Iowa).
Two, he’s fresh off what was arguably his best road and street course performance of the year in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
He qualified seventh and was unlucky to have not made it through to the Firestone Fast Six at Road America, as he got held up on a lap. Then while running up front he ran out of fuel entering before a pit stop, and that dropped him down the order.
Three, he’s in the car that got headlines this race last year – what was Sage Karam’s car – after the rookie driver dazzled the field, if aggressively, en route to his first IndyCar podium of third place.
Chilton’s done well at the ovals this year though. He was a solid seventh – thus far his best result of the year – at Phoenix and was a respectable 15th at the Indianapolis 500, bouncing back from an accident in qualifying.
“For whatever reason, ovals have suited me better this year than road and street courses,” Chilton told NBC Sports heading into Road America.
Now, as he prepares for his first IndyCar run at Iowa, he’ll suit to recapture his Phoenix form and deliver a good result at the site of his first U.S. race win.
“I’m really looking forward to Iowa as that was the site of my first win in America in Indy Lights (in 2015),” he said pre-race. “The track is very fast and we just did testing there last week, so it’s one of the few tracks I’m entering my rookie season where I have some confidence and don’t have to come in and learn it when we show up.
“The Ganassi cars have been fast so far this year, we just need to put together an entire race and I think good results will happen for the Gallagher team.”