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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Max Chilton

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the third-ranked rookie this season, was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

Max Chilton, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2015: Indy Lights
  • 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

Max Chilton seemed to combine the 2015 seasons of Sage Karam, his predecessor at Chip Ganassi Racing, and James Jakes, a fellow Brit who made it over to IndyCar, in his maiden season in IndyCar. It wasn’t particularly memorable, it fell short of expectations, but yet it wasn’t as bad as it seemed – it was just made worse by the fact in a super deep 22-car field, someone has to finish 19th in points.

Like Karam, where Chilton actually did best was on the ovals. He starred early at Phoenix, followed up his Iowa Indy Lights win with a career-best qualifying of fourth (but spun out of the race), did a solid job at Indy to bounce back from a qualifying day crash and made it through his first go-around at Pocono and Texas by finishing both.

Where he was underwhelming and probably underachieved – I’d imagine by his own estimation as well as mine – was on the permanent road courses that should have been his bread and butter. I’d have expected more than one Firestone Fast Six run, and at least one or two podiums. Instead, it took until Watkins Glen for him to even get his first – and only – top-10 result on said course this year. Whether it was poor luck, poor strategy, poor pit stops or a combination of the above Chilton was never in the frame as much as you would have thought.

The nadir of his year was Detroit, a double DNF weekend where a steering rack broke in race one and he was caught up in another accident on the opening lap of race two. Otherwise, the usually safe pair of hands didn’t have another DNF all season.

Chilton’s a likable guy once you get to know him. He has a good wit, a solid sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously. His IndyCar-aoke routine with Matthew Brabham going into Indianapolis was a funny moment. He quickly established a good working rapport with the Ganassi team and worked to soak up every fiber of information he learned from Dario Franchitti, which was a canny move. He also appreciated the level of competition in IndyCar; qualifying well is a sign here of your ability level, and this was an opportunity he was never afforded in F1 owing to the machinery deficit.

He and I joked throughout the year about our propensity for bumping into each other in airports – usually his “adopted U.S. home of Chicago O’Hare” – but I wonder if a more permanent move to Indianapolis this year might have helped him.

I’d like to see him back, though, because he has the ability level, he’s a good teammate – that was witnessed not just at Ganassi but also with his support for his Indy Lights team, Carlin, throughout the year – and he does want to get better.

See Will Power ‘in the flesh’ as he’ll appear on Indy 500-winning Borg-Warner Trophy

Matthew Thacker
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Will Power has had thousands of photos taken of him during his racing career by media, fans, family and friends.

But Power has never undergone the type of photos – and the sitting/modeling he took part in, posing for the image of him that will adorn the Borg-Warner Trophy, symbolic of Power’s win in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Power on Thursday was at the Tryon, North Carolina studio of noted artist and sculptor William Behrends to complete the finishing touches on the clay model of his face and head.

From there, Behrends will create a miniature version of Power’s likeness to be placed on the Borg-Warner Trophy, which is set to be unveiled December 5 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

“It’s actually really cool to come in the first time and see your face there,” Power told MotorSportsTalk. “All the experiences that goes with the Indy 500 are just all great, and it’s amazing I’m sitting there getting my face sculpted to go on the Borg Warner.”

Power discussed the procedure Behrends went through with him.

“He took photos the day after the race, multiple ones, all the way around my face, the whole periphery of it,” he said. “And then he started sculpting the clay face we see right now, my head.

“And then he had me sit there to get it closer. It’s pretty good as it is, but yeah, he sits there and works on it until he thinks it’s right-on. That’s why he had me there in-person.”

Does it look like you, Will?

“Yes, yes. It was funny, because you’re always looking in the mirror and it’s a reverse of your face,” he said. “No one’s face is completely symmetrical.

“It is funny seeing yourself for the first time like you can almost say in the flesh, an actual model of your face and it looks different from what you expect.”

Power was a perfect subject, Behrends said.

“Oh, he’s a wonderful subject, just a very affable, easy-going guy,” Behrends said. “He was very good company during the sittings.

“These sittings I think, are rather difficult for the subject just because he’s just sitting there. I’m working, but the subject has to sit there for long periods of time.

Will Power watches as sculptor William Behrends puts the finishing touches on the clay molding of Power’s face and head. Photo: Matthew Thacker.

“But Will’s very, very cooperative and very easy-going and we had some very nice conversations.”

Power will be the 29th image that Behrends has created for the Borg-Warner Trophy, dating back to his first effort in 1990 with Arie Luyendyk.

“It doesn’t seem like it, but it’s that many years,” Behrends said. “This is the only thing I do that I’ve done more than once. All of my pieces are one-of-a-kind. But it becomes a regular thing on my calendar of the Fall.”

Behrends explained how the process has worked for nearly the last three decades. It starts with taking photos the day after the Indy 500 to rough drafting and sculpting the model, to having the winning driver come to his studio to do some final touches (as Power did Thursday), and then taking the completed clay model and replicating it to be placed on the trophy.

“There’s really three different parts of the process for my work. I’ll spend 3-4 days here, and then two weeks later, I’ll spend a couple more days, so it’s broken up. I guess if I stacked it all together, it’d be about 2-3 (full-time) weeks’ work of different types.”

After Thursday, seeing the finished product that will eventually be placed on the trophy, Power now has yet another bit of inspiration and motivation to win the Indy 500 again.

“You understand everything that goes into winning that race,” Power said. “(To be on the trophy) will be a lot of great satisfaction and gives you a lot of motivation because you want to go through this process again because it’s such a cool process.”

Here are some more tweets from Thursday’s session at Behrends’ studio for Power:

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