By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
It has been an eventful rookie year for Max Chilton in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and Motorsports Tribune’s editor-in-chief, Joey Barnes, sat down with him to discuss the experience, the goals for the final two rounds and more.
Driving the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Chilton qualified sixth for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi at the historic Watkins Glen International. The Brit continues to show progress through the second half of the season, with three of his four top 10 starts coming since round nine at Road America and is aiming for his second top 10 of the year.
Joey Barnes (hereby listed as JB): What are some of the growing pains you have endured in your rookie year?
Max Chilton (hereby listed as MC): The thing that has been the most difficult about this year is that it is a very, very experienced field. You’ve got, maybe five drivers that have been here (in IndyCar) for ten years or more and then you’ve got a number of drivers that have been in it five years or more. So it’s a very competitive field with experienced drivers and everyone in, pretty much the same cars. Yes, there are different engine manufacturers, but basically it is a one-make series. It makes the racing very close.
I think after the mid-season, we started to get some really good pace. I out-qualified all of my teammates at Iowa, qualifying fourth on an oval, which is no easy feat, then qualified seventh at Elkhart Lake. I’ve had some good moments of speed, but we’re just not good in the races. We’ve been quite unlucky with things like reliability, or things going on in the races. Which is frustrating because there have been times, like Elkhart Lake when we ran out of fuel after qualifying seventh. It’s frustrating at times, but as a rookie year it’s not going amazing but it could be going worse.
I think the (Indianapolis) 500 was pretty decent for us, finishing 15th. It’s not too bad, but because (Alexander) Rossi won it made it look like it wasn’t amazing.
JB: You talked earlier in the year about trying to find the limit with Indy cars, have you found it yet?
MC: I feel like I have. It was around mid-season that I really started to learn where it is and I think that is where our speed has come. I’m not too worried about my speed now. I think the thing I need to work on is that, as a team, we perfect everything in the races. I think on the ovals I need to work on the racing-side of things because it is very intense. Like last week at Texas, when the field was three and four-wide, it is pretty daunting. So I need to get a bit of practice at that.
JB: Does Watkins Glen remind you of any of the tracks you raced at in Formula 1 or other categories in Europe?
MC: My favorite circuit in the world is Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, and when I went to test at Watkins Glen (a couple of weeks ago), we only got to run a bit because of the rain in the afternoon so I didn’t get to run many laps, but when I did I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s fast. It’s flowing. It’s a good, smooth surface and a lot of the corners are blind, and it’s a long lap. It reminded me very much of getting around Spa. Hopefully, if we can prepare well and get solid cars for all four Ganassi cars, we should be on for a good weekend. I think it is going to create some great racing because it will have some good corners to do some overtaking.
JB: You have an outside chance, but still a chance, at Rookie of the Year honors, is that a goal you’re aiming for?
MC: I think it’s more important that we finish the season strong. Since the halfway part of the season, I haven’t looked at the standings once because it has not been going our way. We just started to take things weekend by weekend and that is where our speed started to improve. We’ve started to go, but we aren’t quite there yet. The thing with the strategy in IndyCar are that the yellows get kind of frustrating because you get cars that you are quicker than that are running last and then end up on the podium. It can get pretty frustrating. I’ll be going for the best results I can, which honestly will help me in the standings. If somebody could tell me that I could have a podium this weekend (at Watkins Glen), but won’t finish at Sonoma (Raceway), you know I would take it. I’m not too worried about the points. I just want to get a good result.
JB: What are your plans for next year as it relates to IndyCar?
MC: I’m definitely looking into it. Nothing is done yet, we haven’t started negotiations yet. The thing with IndyCar season, it’s unlike what I’m used to in F1. In F1, you’ve got until the last week of November to make it to get the contracts done for the following season. IndyCar just seems to be so early that you can finish it after the season and take your time with it. Nothing is done yet, but I’m about to get something sewn up here soon.
JB: Overall, how has the IndyCar experience been for you?
MC: It’s been amazing. The thing that has made it so amazing, and I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s the fans and the people in the paddock. Everyone on the teams, whether it be mechanics or drivers, they’re all so friendly and willing to help out. There’s not a huge battle between teams, there is mentally, but as a whole everyone gets on really well in the racetrack environment. Even when I was in my Road to Indy stint, all the way up through the categories, everyone is agging everyone on, whether you are an American or not. The journalist, TV commentators, they are agging everyone on and it’s a happy environment than what I’m used to.