Former IndyCar star Mike Conway can sympathize with Carlin Racing’s Max Chilton after his countryman made the bold choice to stop racing on ovals.
Chilton enacted the “Mike Conway Plan,” named for the Briton who spent four full-time seasons racing Indy cars for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Andretti Autosport, and A.J. Foyt Racing (photo above) from 2009-2012, but elected to step out of the cockpit days before the 2012 season finale on the Fontana superspeedway.
Having endured a frightening crash at the Indianapolis 500 in 2010 that broke bones and brought an immediate end to his season, Conway would return in ’11 and contest 10 more oval races before vacating his Foyt seat at the ’12 finale.
The move, as he shares, is one that he holds to firmly years later with no regrets.
“I saw Max’s story online, and I can totally understand it,” Conway told RACER. “He didn’t go into detail, but he just doesn’t want to do it. I was there and got to that point myself. I didn’t care what anybody else said, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Now a pillar of the Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 sports car team, Conway can look back at his oval decision as a pivotal moment that benefitted his career.
“It opened up my eyes and doors to sports car racing, and it’s been the best fun and best racing I’ve had since,” he said. “It didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth when I left. At the time, I wasn’t really enjoying the racing anymore. Racing from eight years old, racing’s your life, and something you love, and when you’re not loving it anymore…
“I don’t know if it’s the same for Max, but I wasn’t enjoying my racing, and the ovals were the reason for that. It was a case of stop doing that, and continue doing what I did enjoy, which was the road and street course stuff and sports cars after that. It was the right call for me, and I don’t care what anybody thought about it, really.”
Conway’s supreme road racing talents were in high demand after 2012: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, and Ed Carpenter Racing all procured his services through 2014 which, thanks to leaving ovals behind, led to Conway’s biggest stretch of success in IndyCar.
With one win for Andretti in 2011, Conway captured three victories — Detroit, Long Beach, and Toronto — once he unburdened himself from the ovals. He hopes Chilton will feel the same sense of relief and rejuvenation when he returns to Carlin for IndyCar’s visit to Road America later this month.
“This really is about enjoying racing. The moment it wasn’t enjoyable, I knew I had to make a decision to fix it. I was in tears telling my father, but afterwards, with a clear head, going into races you enjoy, it’s purely about driving,” he said.
“You aren’t thinking about the bad weekend you had on an oval and then another one coming up. That kind of thinking wasn’t good for me and didn’t get the best out of me.
“[Quitting ovals] totally changed my outlook for the good, and you hope Max gets the same thing out of it that I did.”