Entering his fifth year as an NTT IndyCar Series driver, Max Chilton has turned enough laps to understand the folly of making grand proclamations ahead of a new racing season.
Fastest in pre-season testing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2019, and again last week at Sebring International Raceway, the Briton’s Carlin Racing outfit is more than capable of taking the fight to IndyCar’s Big 3 as the 2020 championship beckons.
Without going as far as calling his shot, Chilton is brimming with confidence at the potential that lies ahead with the No. 59 Chevy and whomever is nominated to drive the sister No. 31 Carlin Racing entry.
“I always say motorsports have got a lot of lows for very little highs,” Chilton told RACER. “Hopefully, we have more highs than we’ve had in previous years, but you’ve got to just take these good moments and let that give you energy moving forward. I think I’ve got a great team around me. I’ve got Barry Waddell, my driver coach, who helps me out a great deal; I’ve got Matt Greasley, who’s one of the best engineers we’ve had at Carlin — he’s been among the best for years and years — and I’ve got great mechanics. Things are looking good.”
Chilton’s best year of IndyCar results were produced in 2017 with Chip Ganassi Racing, where six trips inside the top 10 vaulted the 28-year-old to 11th in the championship. Having carved IndyCar’s ovals from the calendar, he’ll go to work at the 12 road and street courses and seek to earn his first top 10 with Carlin. Beyond the technical aspects of driving a 750hp Indy car and delivering quality results for the team, Chilton has spent the offseason tuning his mind and body to achieve better results.
“I’m in a good place in my life,” he added. “I’m the lightest I’ve been in three or four years. I’m probably the strongest I’ve ever been; maybe not as fit as I was in F1, but in IndyCar, you need the strength a little bit over the fitness. I think I’m in the right place to really attack these cars. They’re big, heavy cars — now even more so with the aeroscreen and the halo. So I think I’m in the perfect position. I just hope that I can get some results because it is hard — I haven’t been on a podium for a long period of time.
“I think Marcus Ericsson, last year when he got the podium, it was the first time he had been on a podium for years — because obviously when you’re in F1, unless you’re in a top car, you’re not on the podium — and it’s been a long time for me, so I’m desperate to get a result. I 100 percent know that I and the team have the ability to do it, but IndyCar is massively competitive, so it’s not going to get handed to you on a plate.”
Another aspect of Chilton’s refined approach involves starting each weekend with a stronger emphasis of treating the first lap of practice and everything that follows as integral steps in a process to whatever success they might achieve on Sunday.
“It’s not like just qualifying in the top three is enough, because there’s people that start 10th and still get on the podium,” he said. “You’ve got to get the whole weekend from FP1 to the end of the race absolutely nailed, but can we do that? 100 percent! And I think it’s really important for our program going forward that I get good results and back to the top 10. It makes a big difference to the team and the motivation and the morale if we can get one of those in the first three or four races of the season. It’ll really help things going forward.”
As IndyCar fans await the news of the driver for Carlin Racing’s second entry next weekend in St. Petersburg, Chilton offered praise for the most recent teammate to pilot the No. 31 Chevy. If speedy Brazilian Felipe Nasr is asked to return, even in a one-off capacity for the season opener, Chilton would welcome the company.
“Felipe is a driver I’ve always had big respect for; a lot of people have respect for him,” he said. “He’s a very nice character, which is a good fit with our Carlin team; we like to think we’re a friendly, open team. He’s raced for the team before in GP2 and done really well, so he fits in, but obviously, as we know all these things, it comes down to getting the deal done. He did a great job in the testing.”