By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
INDIANAPOLIS – Max Chilton has seen it all.
Throughout his career, the 25-year-old has raced around the globe in some of the greatest disciplines motor racing has to offer. Chilton has competed in some of the most glamorous and prestigious of places, including the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
However, on Sunday May 29, 2016, the Brit will enjoy the best of them all, the Indianapolis 500.
Chilton wasn’t raised on a blend of ovals and road courses while progressing up through various ladder series in Europe, but has adapted quickly since coming over to compete in America.
The Brit competed in Indy Lights in 2015 with Carlin, scoring six podiums along with one win en route to finishing fifth in the championship, despite missing two races and not starting one other due to a pre-race mechanical issue.
Chilton’s lone Indy Lights win came at Iowa Speedway, one of three ovals on the tour, and led an incredible 87 of 100 laps after starting on pole.
This season, Chilton moved up to the Verizon IndyCar Series to race the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
Chilton was a welcomed addition to an already stout rookie class that features Conor Daly and recent American F1 driver Alexander Rossi, but admits that he’s looking more positive results more than Rookie of the Year honors.
“There’s a good set of rookies this year,” Chilton told Motorsports Tribune. “It’s competitive. Conor’s got a lot more experience than us in IndyCar. I think he did five races before this year.
So, I am treating Rossi as the rookie I’m checking out occasionally. I’m not too worried about it. It’d be nice to take it (Rookie of the Year honors). For sure that’s what I would like, but I’m with a team where I shouldn’t be worrying about those kinds of things. I should be worrying about getting on podiums and race wins. That’s my focus. Getting up to speed as quickly as I can, trying to get some good results.”
Those results have been hindered by a steep learning curve and jump in talent level for Chilton, whose highest finish thus far this season is seventh at Phoenix International Raceway.
Unlike Formula 1 however, the 25-year-old has the opportunity to share data and information with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates. Something Chilton acknowledged as a plus in IndyCar and a negative in Formula 1.
“I think the problem is double car teams, you’ve only got one other person to compare to and you want to be the better driver,” Chilton said. “If you have a six car team you still want to be the quickest driver, but when you’ve got two it’s like a head to head, dog to dog fight.
“When it’s four teammates, you’re on your way to the top. It’s still a dog to dog fight, but everyone’s got the experience. Everyone is more mature. Everyone is like ‘I need to help out’ and offering their opinions. It’s brilliant and that’s why this team (Chip Ganassi Racing) has so much success.”
With Chilton’s greatest IndyCar success coming on an oval earlier this year, he admires the challenge of an entirely different discipline of track than he grew up competing on.
“They offer great racing,” Chilton said. “You don’t know how it’s going to be until the last five laps and here (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) you don’t know how it’s going to be until the last corner.
“So, it’s great for fans. There’s a hell of a lot more to it than what I thought when I watched very limited racing in my past on ovals. I thought it was just staying flat and turning left and that was it. But there’s a hell of a lot more to it. I enjoy it. I keep learning more and more about it.
“Especially this Indy 500 event, there’s so much more to it. The qualifying sequence has enough rules and different way of doing it as a whole sport on its own. It’s pretty unique. “
With the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 looming, and races at grand stages such as Monaco and Le Mans in his rearview, Chilton is finally at a place in his career that allows him to race on a level that may be the best in all of racing from a pure competition standpoint.
“To me, the three ultimate races, you can classify the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, but I don’t think it has as big as a following as the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 Hours and here. I’ve done two of them.
“I was on the podium, not in F1 but I was on the podium in Monaco in GP2. I’ve done that for six years. I love that place. It’s very special, but this place (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) is very unique. Monaco is cool. It’s a good track, lots of fun, cameras, but this is pure racing.
“It’s a great place and I’m fortunate to be in the 100th running in my first year.”
Image: Chris Jones/INDYCAR