EX-F1 man will be­come a rare grand prix

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Rob Lad­brook

Max Chilton will be­come the first Bri­tish For­mula 1 driver to switch to the Amer­i­can Indycar Se­ries for 12 years af­ter sign­ing for top squad Chip Ganassi Rac­ing this year.

For­mer Marus­sia racer Chilton has inked a deal to join the mul­ti­ple ti­tle-win­ning squad to han­dle a Chevro­let-pow­ered car along­side team-mates Tony Kanaan, Char­lie Kim­ball and reign­ing cham­pion Scott Dixon. Ganassi has won six ti­tles since Indycar and Champ Car merged in 2008.

Chilton, 24, con­tested a part sea­son in the Indy Lights cat­e­gory last year along­side driv­ing for Nis­san with its trou­bled GT-R LM NISMO LMP1 Le Mans pro­ject. He fin­ished fifth in the Indy Lights points de­spite miss­ing three races.

The last Bri­tish F1 driver to tackle Indycar was the late Justin Wil­son, who was killed in an ac­ci­dent at the Pocono Race­way round last year.

“I’m the first Bri­tish F1 driver since 2004 to go across to Indycar, Justin was the last,” said Chilton. “There have not been too many in the last 25 years and Nigel Mansell was the first in that pe­riod. I don’t know if I will start a new wave go­ing across, but peo­ple will start look­ing at Indycar in a new light.

“I re­mem­ber say­ing I’d never do Indycar but then I gave Indy Lights a go and it went on from there. So I’m re­ally ex­cited.

“I’ve got the best op­por­tu­nity to do well with Ganassi. Dario Fran­chitti has been a big in­flu­ence and as he still works for Chip, he will be at a lot of races help­ing me.

“I’m fully aware that peo­ple will ex­pect me to be at the front and I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to it be­cause I’ve had sev­eral years of not hav­ing a car I could win in. The last time was GP2 in 2012, and I won then and I have no prob­lem be­liev­ing I can win races.

“There’s added pres­sure [be­cause I have switched from F1], but I haven’t had that pres­sure for a few years be­cause ex­pec­ta­tions in the car were low [at Marus­sia]. Some tracks will be very hard, es­pe­cially the ovals, but the tracks I do know give me a few races and I’m quite con­fi­dent I can go for some vic­to­ries and some podi­ums this year.”

Test­ing deal

Chilton read­ily ad­mits that his deal to join Ganassi is a late one, which will leave min­i­mal time for pre-sea­son test­ing.

He will have just five days to ac­cli­ma­tise to the Chevro­let-pow­ered Dal­lara DW12. Chilton said: “[The lack of] test­ing is the one hin­drance I have. I had the op­tion to test at the end of last year with one team, which I didn’t take. But I prob­a­bly should have as it ended up tak­ing so long to get the con­tracts done [for the Ganassi move].

“I won’t test un­til Fe­bru­ary 10, and the first race is in March so I have a few days in a car I’ve never driven be­fore, three of which will be on an oval. It will be tough but I’m pretty sure I’ve got enough

ex­pe­ri­ence to learn the car’s cues and be ready for [the first race in] St Peters­burg [on March 13].”

A sea­son in Indycar will of­fer Chilton a mix­ture of street, per­ma­nent and oval cir­cuit races. He adds that the chal­lenge of han­dling some­thing new on un­fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory is ex­cit­ing.

“I love street tracks – there are five on the cal­en­dar – five streets, five ovals and five road cour­ses so it’s a good split. I’d rather more races on [road and street] tracks be­cause that’s the way I’ve been ed­u­cated in rac­ing but it’s nice to try some­thing new.

“I’m a very ac­cu­rate driver, so street cir­cuits suit me. I’ve al­ways said on street cir­cuits treat the walls as your friends and get as close as you can.”

Prepa­ra­tion can pay

Chilton says his part-sea­son in Indy Lights with the Bri­tish Car­lin team can pay off this year when he moves into the top flight of Amer­i­can sin­gle-seater rac­ing.

“Lots of peo­ple gave me re­spect last year for step­ping down from F1 to Indy Lights as it’s a big drop,” he added. “Peo­ple thought ‘fair enough, he’s will­ing to drop down and have a go’. A lot of peo­ple aren’t will­ing to do that. Peo­ple like Ste­fano Co­letti [mul­ti­ple GP2 Se­ries race-win­ner] went into Indycar [last year] and didn’t do a great deal [he fin­ished 19th in the points] and I think at times he will have thought ‘I wish I’d learned in Lights cars first’.

“Last year wasn’t bril­liant in Lights, mainly be­cause it wasn’t my full fo­cus. When I was work­ing with Nis­san I had that to con­cen­trate on and I did 28 trips across the At­lantic last year.

“I had my first win [at Iowa], and Nis­san was over by then and I knew I was pretty strong. I could have won [the sea­son fi­nale at] La­guna Seca too, but I made a mis­take and turned in too early for the Corkscrew and took a valve out of my tyre. I was a lot stronger dur­ing the se­cond half of the year when I had noth­ing else to worry about and I could fo­cus.”

F1 door still open

Chilton has also re­it­er­ated that he hasn’t turned his back on For­mula 1 com­pletely.

The Bri­ton con­tested 35 races with the Marus­sia team be­tween 2012-2014, but failed to score a point as the team strug­gled fi­nan­cially as one of the newer out­fits on the grid.

Chilton had op­tions to con­tinue in F1 af­ter 2014, but opted to look else­where due to the fi­nan­cial strain of the sport.

“What­ever peo­ple say, any­one in the back 10-12 cars on the grid is ex­pected to bring vast amounts of money. And I couldn’t,” he says. “My back­ers had done F1 for two years. I would have felt bad for them do­ing it again be­cause it was at the back.

“In­stead I can go off and do things like this where teams are will­ing to bring a spon­sor to you. You go to a top squad like Ganassi and they bring spon­sors. They are more wel­com­ing.

“I won’t ever say F1 is off the cards. Say I win the Indycar Cham­pi­onship and a top or mid­field F1 team con­tacts me then I’d love to do it. It was my goal since I was a kid. But you have to be re­al­is­tic some­times and just move on.”

Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Edd Straw

Chilton will join reign­ing champ Scott Dixon at team

Chilton raced for Marus­sia

Chilton: ready for new chal­lenge

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