Unlikely Oval Extraordinaire Max Chilton Looks to Take on Texas

As the Verizon IndyCar series arrives at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, English driver Max Chilton prepares for his specialty: racing on ovals at breakneck speeds.

The second year Chip Ganassi Racing driver boasts an impressive resume, one that includes two years competing in Formula 1 with Marussia F1. Now, coming off of a fourth place finish in the famed Indianapolis 500 in which he lead a race high of 50 laps, he looks to make his mark on the first oval race since Indy. However, Chilton admits: “I still don’t understand why my best results in America have been on ovals.”

In 2015, it came as a surprise to some that the driver who had previously found success in European circuit racing series such as GP2 would find his greatest successes in America on oval courses with which he was unfamiliar. Chilton was amongst those surprised, with his first victory coming on a short oval track.

“My first Indy Lights, and only Indy Lights win, was on a short oval in Iowa,” he explains.  “Which actually, short ovals are probably the hardest out of the lot.”

Chilton has certainly hit his stride in oval racing and used it to his advantage, making a major impact in the No. 8 Gallagher Honda. Despite his greater experience in circuit racing, Chilton’s IndyCar accolades include a 7th place finish in his Verizon IndyCar Series oval debut in the 2016 Phoenix race, strong qualifying in tracks such as Iowa, and his more recent run at Indianapolis.

“So my best results have all been on ovals. I don’t know why because I feel more at home on a road or street course,” Chilton says. “But it’s definitely not easy. I think that still the biggest challenge coming over to America is ovals, even though that’s my best results.”

Key to this success is the team that surrounds Chilton, with the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, as well as Chilton’s driving mentor Dario Franchitti. Between those three is five Indianapolis 500 wins and nine IndyCar championships. Chilton appreciates their advice and assistance above all else, as this is among the most successful and prestigious group of figures in any motorsport.

“I’m surrounded by people that have succeeded,” Chilton says of his teammates and mentor. “You can’t put a price on it, it’s invaluable what they’re offering. The thing I’ve learned as a rookie coming into this [series] is that experience is priceless. If they’re giving you advice, at least try it because they’ve been doing it for years and they’ll know what works and what doesn’t.”

Also aiding the Ganassi team in 2017 is a reunion with Honda. Aside from the more nostalgic elements of this historic pairing, Honda provides a package that excels on ovals and greatly benefits Chilton as he finds success in IndyCar. While changing kits from your first season into your second could throw a wrench in your development, Chilton maintains that from the very first test he felt right at home.

“We tested the car for the first time at Sebring and within 4 laps, 5 laps, I came in and said ‘this is a lot better’, and so did my other teammates,” he explains. “Honda definitely, as everyone knows, Honda races. They’re willing to go even beyond what they need to win, which is the right attitude.”

Entering Texas this weekend, all eyes will be on Chilton to see if he can capitalize on this oval and engine strength to capture his first Verizon IndyCar Series win. With practice, qualifying, and the race taking place across two days, anything could happen. However, previous Ganassi tests on the track prove that the Honda package is working to their advantage.

“Texas this weekend will be interesting,” Chilton says, but with the same uncertainty he has towards his all of his oval successes, he adds “We don’t really know how we’re going to go.”