Chilton joined CGR in February 2016 after competing in Indy Lights in 2015. A 25-year-old native of Reigate, England, Chilton made 35 starts for the Marussia Formula 1 Team in 2013-14. In his rookie INDYCAR season in 2016, Chilton scored two top-10 finishes in 16 events with a season-best result of seventh on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway.
Despite a varied racing resume, Chilton acknowledged his learning curve Stateside has been steep.
“Last year was probably one of my biggest years in motorsport," said Chilton, who has competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the GP2 Series and British Formula 3 Championship. “Even though the speeds are similar to F1 and the cars aren’t hugely different, it’s the American way of racing. The racetracks were all very new to me, the street circuits incredibly bumpy and tight, the oval racing is incredibly fast and close.
“The thing I learned most was, I think, the racing aspect, sort of the experience. It’s so different racing on ovals, especially in IndyCar. The Indy Lights Series, the cars are a lot smaller. I didn’t do many oval races. Also the cars are usually very spread out. With IndyCar, there’s cars everywhere. You’re sometimes four-wide with another three behind you. Race craft plays a huge part in the oval racing. Actually there’s a lot of oval races throughout the season. That’s why I felt like I learned a lot, but I’ve still got plenty more to learn."
Chilton again will be teamed with four-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, 2004 series
champion Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball. Chilton also will again look to retired four-time series champion Dario Franchitti for at-the-track coaching.
“With my teammates _ even Charlie, the least experienced _ he’s got six years. You can really see that makes a difference," said Chilton, the fourth British driver in the last 25 years to have driven fulltime in F1 prior to joining the IndyCar Series in the same capacity. “Then you have Tony and Scott. I think they’re going into their 15th or 16th year of IndyCar. It just pays so well to have that experience in your team.
“Dario is my mentor. He said it took him three or four years to master the craft of oval racing. I feel like I’m going to take in more experience with that."
Chilton said he was especially pleased to be paired with engineer Brandon Fry. “Yeah, it’s hugely important to have that continuity," Chilton said. “I know from my experience of being in single-seaters now for over a decade, it really does help. To at least have the same team engineer; the engineer is the one you work most closely with, so it’s nice if you get on with him to keep that relationship going and ideally try to keep the crew the same. Sometimes you have to tweak it here and there. It’s hugely important.
“When everyone knows how to work with each other, you keep that going. That’s why time and time again you see an ex-champion, he’s a multiple champion, has been with the same team for many years. You don’t have to spend that time learning each other. You just know what each other want sometimes without having to say too much. I’m looking forward to going into my second year with the No. 8 crew."
Ganassi’s four teams will compete with the Honda engine/aero-kit package this season after exiting the Chevrolet camp at the end of the 2016 campaign.
“It doesn’t take a huge amount of looking to know what the differences are with the packages," Chilton said. “It’s not a huge deal. I think it’s more the way the manufacturers approach it. I think Honda very much go out there and do everything for the win regardless of what the circumstances may be, blowing engines, sort of having issues. They’re very much the racing side.
“Chevrolet, they are more the consistent side, but sometimes maybe not giving it everything. I think we’ve got more chances of succeeding as a team with Honda, which obviously the team agreed with that. They’re the ones that made the decision.
“But driving-wise, from what I saw last year being a Chevrolet driver, the drivability for the Honda, especially on traction…traction was definitely, definitely better. The oval racing, they seem to have more power. There’s lots of debates going on whether they do or don’t have more power. But they seem to have the edge on the oval racing, especially Indy. As we all know, Indy is basically like a championship in itself. People want to win that sometimes more than the championship. I feel like the team’s made a good decision. Hopefully it pays off."
A first-time podium result tops Chilton’s logical to-do list for 2017. “I feel like as soon as we get a podium going, the rhythm will just keep flowing and hopefully we’ll get a win," Chilton said. “I really, really do want to get a win next year. If we’re doing that, we’re sort of in contention for a good year in the championship. Just to get a good start and keep the momentum going, that is my goal. I think that definitely is achievable."
Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. is an international insurance brokerage and risk management services firm headquartered in Itasca, Ill. Gallagher has operations in 33 countries and offers client services in more than 150 countries worldwide through a network of correspondent brokers and consultants. John Sturbin/RacinToday.com