Max Chilton has expressed his disappointment after a potentially strong weekend at the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio was undone by a collision with Takuma Sato early on in the race. Chilton qualified a superb sixth place for Carlin on Saturday, but his incident in the race with Sato earned him a penalty which took him out of contention.
Chilton’s weekend in Mid-Ohio was the perfect example of the highs and lows of the Verizon IndyCar Series. Heading into the event, Chilton had yet to really showcase his abilities this season, having been outclassed by his team-mate Charlie Kimball throughout 2018 so far. Chilton had a best finish of eleventh place, which came at the second race in Detroit, whilst Kimball had finished inside the top ten four times, including a superb fifth place at the previous race in Toronto.
It was in Saturday’s qualifying session at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course where Chilton finally drew some attention. A great lap in the first round of qualifying saw Chilton advance to the second round. He was one of the first drivers to put in a competitive lap in the second round, which ultimately paid off in a huge way.
A handful of drivers had completed a flying lap by the time the session was nearing its end. A number of fast drivers were halfway through their laps when James Hinchcliffe, who has just gone to the top of the time-sheets, crashed into the wall at the carousel corner. The incident caused a red flag to be deployed, which would end the session as there was not enough time left in the session for anyone to get back out onto the track and complete a flying lap.
This meant that drivers such as Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Scott Dixon and Ed Jones, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato, and more, were unable to advance through to the final session. This meant that, for the first time, Carlin had made it through to the Firestone fast six in qualifying, with Chilton going on to claim sixth on the grid.
Chilton may have benefitted from the red flag, but he insisted after qualifying that his #59 Carlin Chevrolet was much faster than previous races, citing the mid-season test at the circuit a week beforehand as a potential factor as to why he was so much quicker. He then went on to share his hopes for a good result in the race, saying that he was hoping to “keep it clean” and “come through with a great result.”
“It’s been a good weekend for us so far and I think it’s due in large part to the fact that we got to test here at Mid-Ohio last week,” Chilton said on Saturday, “We were feeling pretty confident after we tested here, but it’s just so tight in INDYCAR, so you never know. I was so close to not getting through to the Firestone Fast Six and since we only had scuffed reds (Firestone alternate tires) left, we went out early in that final session just to get a lap on the timing sheets. We went into that final round of qualifying on 13 lap-old red tires, so I’m pretty happy with where we ended up.
“It’s amazing how qualifying can change your whole weekend and shift the momentum heading into the race on Sunday. While where you start certainly doesn’t guarantee where you are going to finish, qualifying well does make a huge difference, especially for a new team like us. If we can just keep it clean tomorrow, I will take care of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet the best I can, and hopefully, we will come through with a great result for Carlin and Gallagher.”
Sadly for Chilton, it would not be long after the green flag flew at the start of the race before his weekend took a turn for the worse. It was a chaotic start, which saw pole-sitter Alexander Rossi ride right on the edge of the rulebook when he checked up the field coming to the start. Chilton lost sixth place to Takuma Sato in the opening melee, but the British driver was determined to find a way back past.
On lap two, Max tried to make a move up the inside of Sato to regain the position, but he was not far enough alongside. Max’s front-wing tagged the right-rear wheel of Sato, with the contact sending Takuma into a spin. Sato came to a near-stop right in the middle of the circuit, with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver lucky to have not been collected by the rest of the field who were coming at him.
Race control was quick to take action on the incident, awarding Chilton a drive-through penalty for the avoidable contact. This dropped him way down the order, but his race got even worse soon after. Carlin elected to bring Max into the pits for an early pit-stop, but a lengthy issue with the left-front wheel gun dropped the British driver almost two laps down on the leaders.
With the ninety-lap race running completely caution free, there was no way for Chilton to regain his lost ground. He eventually came home in twenty-fourth and last place, two laps down on the race winner Rossi.
“That was just a really disappointing way to end this weekend at Mid-Ohio after hitting such a high note yesterday with our Firestone Fast Six qualifying effort,” a frustrated Chilton said post-race, “We had a good start at the green flag, but it turned for us pretty quickly after Race Control gave us a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact with [Takuma] Sato.
“We were hoping with how quick the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet was that we would be able to recover and fight back through the field, but with no yellows (flags) and some issues in pit lane, we just couldn’t move forward at all.”
Chilton will at least take away the fact that he seemed to have much greater pace in the #59 Chevrolet at Mid-Ohio. He will be hoping that his car is just as fast in the next round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, the 2018 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, which takes place on Sunday, August 19.