Max Chilton says his first two IndyCar tests with Chip Ganassi Racing have revealed the challenge he faces in his rookie season.
The ex-Formula 1 driver last week tested at Sonoma Raceway’s road course and the Auto Club Speedway at Fontana, and he says he was immediately struck by the amount of downforce the cars now have.
“It’s an amazing bit of kit,” declared Chilton. “You don’t have to look very hard to see they’d perform pretty well in the corners, but it performed better than I was expecting.
“Sonoma is where I drove the car for the first time and that made it difficult because I didn’t know the circuit, and Sonoma’s one of the trickier circuits on the calendar. But the morning went really well, I got up to speed pretty quickly. And then in the afternoon I got full fuel-stints in, 25-28 laps at a time to see how the tires wore down.
“It’s very much what I’m used to in Formula 1 – the tire degradation is pretty high, but it’s manageable and as long as you drive sensibly and control wheelspin you can find ways to extend the life of the tire.”
Chilton, who scored a win and five other podium finishes with Carlin Racing in his 13 Indy Lights starts last year, said he was very grateful to Chip Ganassi Racing for taking him on.
He said: “Although I’ve had experience in one of the highest categories in the world, I know they’re taking a risk with me. I am a rookie and I’m still quite new to it – all the ovals, bar a couple and also a lot of the street circuits.
“So it’s a steep learning curve for next year, but they obviously saw the talent that I’ve got, and it was after winning Iowa, only my second oval, that they realized there was something there. It’s great to be with such a great team.”
Chilton would “jump at” another F1 opportunity
Chilton said his two seasons at Marussia had not satisfied his passion for F1, and that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of returning.
“The one thing I’ve learned since going to America last February to do Indy Lights is that you never know where life’s going to take you," he commented. "I remember I said I’d never do IndyCar and yet here I am – a full season with Chip Ganassi Racing.
“If I do amazingly well in IndyCar and it gives me the opportunity to go back to F1, I’d jump at it because at the end of the day, F1 was my goal and I have a lot of unfinished business there. Since I was a child, I wanted to become a podium finisher or a race winner [in Formula 1] and that didn’t happen.
“So I wouldn’t say never, but I’d look at what teams offer me something. Because if it was a back-of-the-field drive then I wouldn’t be interested. In IndyCar, the drivers are just as good, it’s just as competitive but everyone’s got a chance – to a certain extent – to do well.”
Chilton said he had not spoken directly to Chip Ganassi about joining the Ford GT driver lineup at Le Mans, and said he was not as interested in GT as he was in prototypes.
“They know I’m interested in the World Endurance Championship, and that’s where I went after I’d done Formula 1,” he said. “Everyone says endurance racing suits my style especially with my record in Formula 1 [only rookie in F1 history to finish every race].
“So I’d look at it. Personally, I don’t really fancy GT yet because I still feel I’m at an age where I can do well and try and prove myself in single-seaters, get victories, maybe championships under my belt before I’d jump into a GT car. I’d rather go LMP1 before I did that.
“But Chip does have a World Rallycross team and I’d absolutely jump at the chance to have a little go at that. Scott Speed has done very well at that and it seems like a fun new sport. So if I got the offer, I’d definitely have a little play.”