Photo: David Yowe/INDYCAR

Max Chilton’s Oval Racing Education

By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Chip Ganassi Racing driver Max Chilton grew up road racing all over the world before coming to race in Indy Lights in 2015. By racing in Indy Lights, the British native was exposed to something he hadn’t driven: ovals.

Chilton did not start in the 2015 Freedom 100 because of a technical failure on his car but his first start on an oval was at Iowa Speedway that same year. He won that race on one of the more physically challenging ovals in North America. Having won at that track and done ovals for two seasons in North America with one being in the Verizon IndyCar Series, one would thing that Chilton is comfortable on ovals.

“I don’t think there’s such a thing as comfortable on ovals, I don’t think I’ll ever say I’m comfortable on ovals,” Chilton said. “You can get comfortable with your setup but usually if you’re comfortable with your setup you’re slow. Scott [Dixon] when he went out I think he was pretty nervous with the setup he had but it worked and he drove a quality four laps and got the pole.

“I feel more relaxed in the way I feel like I know more, I feel like I’ve experienced when to know that’s the limit, but gusts of wind can catch you out, punctures can catch you out, you know dodging other cars, there’s so much that doesn’t sometimes go your way but I feel like I know ovals way better than I did, yeah,” Chilton added.

Chilton did admit that driving on ovals has helped his overall racing, and that having more diversity can help make him a better driver and the biggest thing he’s learned on ovals.

“Timing your moves, to overtake on an oval you have to time your moves correctly and so there’s a real art to that,” Chilton said.

“[Also] really knowing the limit of grip, you’re always pretty much on the limit of grip on an oval and I think sometimes drivers with high downforce cars and high speed corners think they’re really on the limit. Maybe, now I know what really is the limit, so I think what Fernando [Alonso]’s doing is great.

“It’s a different aspect of the sport and putting them all together but they always say that the best drivers out there are the ones that experience all different types of motorsport. Rally, dirt track, speedways, grand prix cars, the more you know, the better understanding of what you’re driving.”

Chilton’s done speedways, and grand prix cars, but will he do the rest? Time will tell.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.