Max Chilton confident after “best race I’ve had in IndyCar”

Photo: Dana Garrett/INDYCAR

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Motorsports can be a fickle sport, particularly in a series with as diverse a range of strategies, personalities and racetracks as the Verizon IndyCar Series. It takes more than just speed to find success – strategy, talent, and even luck can play a significant factor in the outcome of any race. Strong performance is difficult to come by, and deserving finishes can prove even rarer.

Just ask Max Chilton.

Immersed in his second year within the IndyCar paddock, Chilton – a former Marussia F1 Team driver – had shown glimpses of speed over his first 20 starts in the American open wheel series. His Chip Ganassi Racing team had displayed promise, but a true standout performance had yet to come.

That all changed on Saturday in Indianapolis, when Chilton parlayed a unique tire strategy and aggressive drive to come from 14th on the starting grid to tie his best IndyCar result (Phoenix Raceway, 2016) with a seventh-place showing in the INDYCAR Grand Prix.

Overjoyed with his performance, Chilton emerged from his No. 8 Honda with something the paddock hadn’t seen much of this season – a smile.

“That was the best race I’ve had in IndyCar by far,” Chilton said after the race. “My rookie race at Phoenix last year, we had a good car and just stayed out of trouble, there was not much overtaking. Here, maybe you could argue there was not much overtaking, where I was there seemed to be quite a bit. There were groups catching groups.

“There was four stints, and I felt like that was a flawless race on my side and the team’s side. We went against strategy on the tire call – that was my call to start on the black – and it worked.”

In reflecting on his race, the Reigate, England native credited his team’s setup for enabling his car to overtake competitors, a crucial aspect of road course racing.

“We seemed to always have good pace, and we always, whenever we caught a car, got it overtook when we wanted to, “Chilton said. “That makes a world of difference. If you start using push-to-pass and not getting overtakes done, before you know it a (driver with a) gap 10 seconds behind has closed in on you. If you can just catch the car and do it the first time it makes such a difference.

“We had a great car out there today, and I have no doubt that if we would’ve started on the front row, we would’ve finished on the front row.”

Chilton, 26, was a constant presence inside of the top 10 throughout the 85-lap event. Save for the beginning of the race, when he was on the harder primary Firestone tire while the majority of the field ran on the soft red alternates, the Briton consistently held or advanced his position.

“It was one of those days,” Chilton said. “I was driving around there from 10 laps in thinking it was going to be a great day. I was the leading car on blacks, and I wasn’t losing anything until the reds. And I thought, ‘You wait until the next stint when they’ve go black and I’ve got reds, this is going to be good.’ It just worked out the whole race. ”

As a result, Chilton leapt up three spots to 15th in the standings, within 13 points of the top 10 with the double-points Indianapolis 500 looming next on the schedule. The sophomore noted the importance of the run to his hopes for advancement on the championship table after the race.

“That was a great way to start the month,” Chilton said. “We’ve had a difficult start to the season. We’ve been quite quick, but we’re P-Nowhere in the championship, worse than where we were last year. To have a race where we’ve gained a lot of points, and also a lot of people had a bad race, it makes a world of difference.”

However, while his gains in the standings were substantial, perhaps the most important thing Chilton took away from his run on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course were racing’s ultimate intangibles – confidence and momentum.

“It’s a good boost,” Chilton said. “I’ve always believed in myself, but it’s difficult when you haven’t got the results. It’s hard to prove to other people.

“I know that was only seventh, but from 14th on a track which had no safety cars and no strategy calls it really sort of made a difference.”

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