Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton says he wants to compete in Le Mans but still intends to be racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018.
The ex-Formula 1 driver won a race in Indy Lights in 2015 with Carlin before graduating to IndyCar with Ganassi last year, and is optimistic that this year and next he can show clear progress. However Chilton admitted that endurance racing and in particular the 24 Hours of Le Mans – in which he raced the curious front-engined Nissan GT-R LM NISMO in 2015 – remains a strong interest.
He told Motorsport.com: “For now, IndyCar is my focus but I’d love to do Le Mans in the next year or two, because that is definitely up my street. Even before I did Formula 1, when I was 16 I raced an LMP1 car with my brother in the WEC 1000km at Silverstone and we finished sixth overall.
“I always felt that [endurance racing] was my strength. When I was in Formula 1, journalists would always ask me what my aim was if I didn’t continue in F1 and I always said ‘Le Mans.’
“That’s when the Nissan deal came along and I was very excited but that thing wasn’t really a racing car, was it? So I’d love to do it again properly.”
Nonetheless, Chilton said that to show his full potential in an IndyCar, he’s hoping to be racing in the U.S. next year.
“I don’t know how long I’ll do IndyCar,” he admitted, “but I like to have a plan and next year I think will be the year when people say, ‘Wow, look at his improvement.’ “Traditionally, I need three years at something. First year, I show speed at certain times, but don’t get many results; second year, I show speed and get some results; and third year we’re right up there.
“Like in British F3, in my third year I was up at the front, fighting for wins and pole positions with Daniel Ricciardo as my teammate. Third year in GP2, I got a couple of wins and finished fourth in the championship. That’s just the speed I learn at!”
Chilton said he was confident of making his usual year-on-year progress because of the way that Chip Ganassi Racing is run, so that he can consult with his teammates – Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball – and study their driving styles.
“They’re probably the best teammates I’ve had in my career from the point of view of being willing to share data and being completely open,” he said. “It’s made clear to everyone that it’s a tough branch of the sport, maybe the closest of all from the front of the grid to the back, so to make progress, everyone needs to work together.
“It’s certainly nothing like the junior categories where you don’t want to share much because your teammates are your arch-rivals. Here, the important part is the team effort.”