By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
In his Verizon IndyCar Series oval debut, Max Chilton hung with some of the best in the business en route to a stellar seventh place finish in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday night.
Chilton’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon, soared to his 39th series win, but it was the former Formula 1 driver that had other drivers, notably Graham Rahal, impressed by his performance.
“I was just happy Chilton didn’t get me because, my God, Chilton had the fastest car tonight,” said Rahal. “(Chilton) didn’t win the thing because he was taking some brave, brave moves. But that car was a rocket ship, so I was just happy he didn’t get a run on me.”
Rahal wasn’t the only competitor Chilton went wheel-to-wheel with, the Brit also battled alongside former series champions Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay. At times, Chilton looked like a contender for his first career podium.
Running with the veterans, the 24-year-old outshined all rookies by a considerable margin. The closest Rookie of the Year contender to the Chilton was Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who finished 14th.
Chilton had amassed some oval experience last season in Indy Lights, the top ladder series of IndyCar. It was during that time with Carlin in which Chilton captured a stunning win at Iowa Speedway. But the enormous jump in talent level that Chip Ganassi Racing driver matched Saturday night is one that many will now moniter as the series heads closer to the Month of May in preparation for the 100th Indianapolis 500.
The stellar run for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has pushed Chilton to 10th in the championship standings, 15 points out of fifth.
Following the race, Chilton noted a few mistakes he made due to lack of experience, but overall still came away pleased with the result.
“I do think there were a few mistakes I made as a rookie just because I hadn’t experienced it before where we could have been top two or three,” said Chilton. “But I’m really happy with what we came away with this evening.”
Chilton delved more into his emotions of the evening, remaining delighted but somewhat unsatisfied with his career-best finish in IndyCar.
“I’m really, really happy with it,” Chilton said of his finish at the Desert Mile. “It’s weird that, considering this was my first ever oval experience in IndyCar, I’m slightly disappointed with seventh. Because we could have easily done what (Simon) Pagenaud did, and he got second.
“We had a slight problem with getting into first gear on a stop. A half second is the difference in two places.”
Image: Chris Owens/INDYCAR