INDIANAPOLIS – Max Chilton enjoyed what he called easily the best race of his Verizon IndyCar Series career Saturday in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Starting 14th, Chilton took the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda up to seventh at the finish of the fifth race of 2017 after a spirited drive that featured several solid passes and good pit work all around.
The result was a nice bounce back finish after improving slightly from 16th to 14th to 12th in the opening three races, and then getting taken out in Mikhail Aleshin’s triggered first lap accident at Phoenix.
This also matches his best IndyCar finish to date, which was seventh last year at Phoenix. Chilton’s only road course top 10 last year was 10th at Watkins Glen.
“That was my best race in IndyCar, full stop. One of my best ever,” Chilton told NBC Sports post-race. “From lights to flag, with no safety car, pure racing, pure speed, and no people doing crazy moves on restarts, that was one of the best of my career. It was only seventh, but to come from 14th when you can’t easily get people, was a really good day.”
Chilton made his own inspired pre-race decision to start on Firestone’s black primary tire, which meant he could get off them at the first pit stop and move forward from there on the softer, faster, red alternate tires. Graham Rahal was the only other driver able to match Chilton’s pace from there as they could run reds the rest of the race.
It’s the first sign of Chilton’s improved confidence and pace in his sophomore season actually translating to results. He’s had pace this season at times, notably in testing, but hadn’t really delivered a result of note. He continues to work well with engineer Brandon Fry and strategist Julian Robertson.
“I hardly did any fuel saving. It was go, go, go… then save your tires and get your moves done,” Chilton explained. “From six or seven laps in, I knew it’d be a good day. I started on blacks, which was my call, and I sort of went off the engineers.
“We had a great gap and didn’t have to worry about what was behind me. (James) Hinchcliffe was maybe a tenth quicker a lap than I was on blacks. The second stint I’d piss them (on pace) and we did. We had such great speed.
“Rahal was the only car that caught me all race. I’m not sure what planet he was on. But at the end I caught him again when he got held up by Marco. That was a great race. It all went to plan. We did a faultless job. You can have a faultless day, even when you don’t get up there.”
Over the moon with this result and as he noted one of his best drives in his career overall, Chilton will now look to better what was a respectable debut finish of 15th in last year’s Indianapolis 500, his second career oval race. That’s now where he sits in the points as well, ahead of a race where qualifying points are awarded and the race triggers double points.
“I know it’s only seventh, but coming from 14th with pure overtaking, made it a top, top day,” he said.