IndyCar Meet-and-Greet: Max Chilton

Recently a Formula One rookie sensation, the British driver hopes to make another rookie splash—this time at the Indy 500.

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Every year brings a new class of rookies to the Indianapolis 500. Some are “rookies” only in the technical sense.

Driver Max Chilton is a new face at Indianapolis this May, however, to the passionate motorsports fan, he is a familiar face. Born in Great Britain, Chilton came up through the racing ranks of Europe. In 2013, he signed with the Marussia F1 Team and went on to become the first Formula One rookie to finish every race of the season.

The highs of 2013 did not last long. In 2014, Chilton’s Marussia F1 teammate, Jules Bianchi, was injured in a crash in Suzuka, Japan, and later died from the injuries. Chilton started the next race in Sochi, Russia, in honor of his teammate. Shortly after the race, Marussia F1 went into bankruptcy, leaving Chilton without a ride.

Max Chilton

Photo by Darryl Smith

That is when Chilton set his sights on the United States and IndyCar. He signed on with his former GP2 team, Carlin Motorsport, which had just transitioned to the U.S., for the 2015 Indy Lights season.

“It was a big step back—I think people were shocked by my move, but I do think that I gained a lot of respect for it,” says Chilton. “I think it was the right move.”

Chilton had a fair amount of success last year in Indy Lights. He notched six podiums and two wins, one on the oval at Iowa and another on the road course of Laguna Seca. Despite not running the full season, Chilton still finished a respectable fifth in the championship standings.

“It showed that I wanted to come here and do it the right way,” Chilton says of his Indy Lights effort. “I didn’t want to come in at the deep end and then struggle.”

According to Chilton, one of the biggest differences between Formula One and IndyCar is driving on ovals. Lucky for him, he seems to have learned the craft of oval racing, with his Indy Lights win at Iowa and seventh place finish at Phoenix earlier this year.

“People tell me those who do well at Phoenix tend to do well at Indy,” Chilton said. “It is weird, though, since I’ve been over here for a year and a half, I’ve had more success on ovals than I’ve had on road courses. But hopefully that pays dividends come May 29.”

Chilton will pilot the number 8 car for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Indy 500. His teammates Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon have a pair of Indy 500 wins between then, and his mentor, Dario Franchitti, has three.

“[They’ve told me] it’s like no other,” says Chilton. “You have to treat [the race] with a lot of respect, but don’t be afraid of it.”

On the track, Chilton looks to be the next rookie winner of the 500. Off it, he likes to stay active through cycling and a rigorous fitness regime. Golf, however, is his major pastime.

“I’m obsessed with my phone, and if I’m not training, I’m probably on my phone,” Chilton says. “But the only place you can’t be on your phone is when you’re playing golf. I love that. I’ve missed that. The last couple of years, I haven’t played as much golf as I was when I was in F1.”

Hopefully for Chilton, his drive to win will help keep off the golf course for some time to come—and maybe put his name on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

 

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