Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

2019 IndyCar Preview: Max Chilton

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the NTT IndyCar Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into the 2019 season opener at St. Petersburg on March 10.

Age: 27

Team: Carlin

Years in IndyCar: Three

Career Wins: 0

Career Podiums: 0

Both Max Chilton and Carlin are hoping for a breakthrough NTT IndyCar Series campaign after reuniting last season with less than ideal results from the fans eyes, as an 11th at the first race at Belle Isle being his best result and a 19th place points finish was the lowest among the drivers who ran all 17 races.

Those numbers doesn’t tell much of the story as it was Carlin’s first season in IndyCar and Chilton’s first with a different team after spending his first two seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing, but their story goes back to the GP2 days where Chilton spent two seasons before moving up to Formula One in 2013.

What they’ve done together in GP2 has shown in IndyCar, where Chilton topped the speed charts during testing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Feb. 8, and stated they can only go up from here as they have high expectations as he’s the only full-time driver while teammate Charlie Kimball is now running a limited schedule and expected to share the ride with RC Enerson.

“I’m looking forward to my second year at Carlin,” said Chilton. “I’ve done this with them before in GP2. First year, we showed signs of potential. Second year, we actually finished fourth in the championship and had two main wins and two pole positions. We seem to leapfrog quite a lot, so we’re putting pressure on ourselves, but pressure makes diamonds. The only issue is we were P1 at Laguna, so it’s only a slip if we slow down from here. Hopefully, we can keep ourselves up.”

Chilton is not only looking to score his first top-10 since Watkins Glen in 2017, he’s eyeing on his first career podium as well. He believes it can be done after the team has spent countless hours at the shop during the off-season.

“If we can finish in the top-10, that’s definitely a big step forward than we were last year. You need to be in the top-10 to get good results, so it’s critical for us this year to get some wins or at least podiums,” Chilton explained. “I’m looking forward to it and I’m sort getting more comfortable in America, and I can’t wait to get some success with Carlin. I’ve always enjoyed winning with Carlin more than anyone else because they’re part of the family.

“The expectations is that we need to prove that we are a top running team. To do that, you need to be at least qualifying in the top-10 regularly. With doing that, you’re obviously going to have bad days, but you’re going to have good days when you come home with a top-five result and we definitely need to progress. That is the aim at the moment is regularly being in the top-10.”

Before strapping into his No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet at Laguna Seca, Chilton hasn’t been in the states, let alone run an IndyCar for five months, but has remained in communications with the Trevor Carlin-owned effort to make sure all the work is being put in, believing that the off-season is where they can build momentum that would create stronger results throughout the season, which it can’t be done during the 17-race grind.

“I haven’t been in the car for five months, but I’ve been in contact with them regularly,” said Chilton. “They’re all confident and I’m always a little bit skeptical because it’s sort of like certain F1 teams promise the world, and they get to the race and nothing ever happens, so you doubt it. Then we got to Laguna and we clearly made a step forward, so their hard work during the winter made a huge difference.

“It’s not easy to come into IndyCar. I think we slightly underestimate how hard it is, especially with how short of a season it is. We get very little testing and very little time to learn. In your first year, it’s very hard to learn anything, so I think that’s what the winter months has done for us is analyze everything, learn from it and move forward. It’s quite hard in IndyCar to progress forward in a season, you have to do it in the winter and progress in the next year. So hopefully we can do that this year.”

With a handful of ex-Formula One drivers, including rookie Marcus Ericsson, making the leap to IndyCar over the past few years, the transition from running exclusively on road and street courses to a mixture of ovals on the calendar has provided a new challenge to those drivers.

For Chilton, who last ran F1 in 2014 before racing in the states, he has felt that oval racing bodes well with his driving style despite his comfort zone being tested, including the Indianapolis 500, where he led 50 laps and scored his best career finish of fourth in 2017.

“Even though I don’t feel comfortable on an oval, it naturally suits my smooth, calm driving style,” said Chilton.

“I’ve had my best success on ovals. My nearly biggest career changing moment was leading those laps at the Indy 500. That’s not luck, that was learning from greats like Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon) and Tony (Kanaan). We got unlucky, but that’s part of the 500. People have lost it on the last corner, so I’ve learned from it and if I’m in that position again, I know what I can do differently.”

During INDYCAR Spring Training at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas Feb. 12-13, Chilton struggled finding pace as he was 22nd quickest among the 25 drivers who tested based on the combined results, with his best effort being a 1:48.7368 seconds set in Session No. 3, over two seconds off Colton Herta’s fastest time of 1:46.6258 seconds.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis does video and photography, and is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.