You might say that Max Chilton hit the road Wednesday and enjoyed the trip immensely.
As in the 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course at legendary Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Chilton visited and practiced there with 10 other Verizon IndyCar Series drivers in a private team test. He came away not only impressed with the facility, but the experience added to his excitement for racing there in the upcoming KOHLER Grand Prix (12:30 p.m. ET June 26, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
“I hugely, hugely enjoyed it,” Chilton told IndyCar.com today. “I spent a couple hours on the (Road America) simulator a couple months back and thought, ‘This should go good.’
“But it’s one of those of those tracks that, until you drive it, you don’t realize how bloody quick it is. It’s more of my style of racing, more of what I’m used to.
“It’s definitely a great track. It’s got a real good flow to it. It’s got everything you want: undulation, 90-degree tight turns, long straights, the fans like it, it’s got some amazing corners to drive and especially the Carousel. I really, really enjoyed it, so hopefully we can have a good race there. I think it’ll put a lot of people more on a level playing field.”
The KOHLER Grand Prix weekend June 24-26 will be Chilton’s first race on the American road course in an Indy car. It also marks the return of Indy car racing to the 14-turn layout for the first time since 2007.
Chilton came to Road America prepared, having received advice from teammate Tony Kanaan and from Chip Ganassi Racing driver coach and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, who still holds the lap record of 1 minute, 39.866 seconds (145.924 mph), set in 2000.
“I spoke to Tony in the morning (before the test),” Chilton said. “He’s obviously got experience there and was a big help, but Dario is the one who was the real star. He wrote a full two- or three-page document on corner by corner of what he did and how he approached each corner.
“So, I was on the right side of knowing what to do before going out on track with Tony’s advice as well. Tony’s advice is pretty much gospel and I listened to it and I wound up pretty quick.”
The driver of the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet compared Road America with the renowned Spa-Francorchamps circuit, site of the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix. Chilton, 25, spent two years in F1 before driving last season in Indy Lights.
“(Road America’s) like a traditional European track like Spa,” Chilton said. “Spa definitely comes closest. Spa is my favorite track in the world. I’m not going to say (Road America is) a Spa, but it’s very near an American Spa, I’d say.
“You can tell it’s old, they don’t really make tracks like that anymore, and I’m really looking forward to racing there. I think there’s going to be a lot of position changes throughout the race.”
It’s admittedly been a difficult rookie season for Chilton, who is 19th in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings. In the first eight races, he has just one top 10 (seventh on the mile oval at Phoenix) and he’s coming off back-to-back DNFs due to crashes in both races at Belle Isle (21st and 22nd, his worst finish of the year thus far).
The Englishman remains encouraged because Road America is more akin to his style of road-course racing and he may start the second half of the season in better form.
“I think so,” Chilton said. “I’m one of those people that has always said you create your own luck, but I haven’t exactly created the kind of luck I’ve wanted over the last two weekends. I had a pretty unlucky month of May.
“I came back to finish 15th at Indy (in the 100th Indianapolis 500) as a rookie, which I think’s a pretty good job and that’s what top rookies tend to come away with.
“But, obviously, Alexander (Rossi, fellow rookie and Indy 500 winner) made that look pretty average. I didn’t think it was too bad, what we did there. But then to have double DNFs at Detroit, I’ve had seasons where I didn’t have even one DNF, and then to have two in the same weekend over two days was pretty frustrating.
“The first one was not my fault, the steering gave way and there was nothing I could do. Then, on Day 2, at the start I was just trying to avoid an accident (on the opening lap), but there wasn’t much I could have done.”
Chilton said Road America will allow him and the team to retune their focus going forward.
“We’ve sort of changed our outlook,” Chilton said. “We’re now not focusing on the championship, we are where we are. We’re now just focused on each race weekend as it comes.
“By doing that, we might surprise ourselves by jumping up in the championship. But I think we’ll be happy if we come away with champagne and trophies than the championship for the moment.”