Mike Hull says Ganassi Racing wants Max Chilton on a multi-year IndyCar deal. But is the ex-F1 backmarker worth it?
Ganassi wants to keep Chilton
Ganassi team manager Mike Hull was quoted by Autosport this week confirming the desire to sign Chilton on a multi-year deal in IndyCar.
Coming from a reputable source and direct from Hull, there is no doubt about the intention. For me the question is whether Chilton is worth a multi-year deal at arguably the best IndyCar team of the current era?
Performances so far – disappointing
Chilton’s performances in his rookie IndyCar season have been decidedly average. With only the Sonoma season-finale to go, Chilton is the lowest scoring rookie with a full-time ride in 2016. Only occasional racer Spencer Pigot sits lower.
From the 15 races completed this season Chilton has 6 top 15 finishes and zero top 10 finishes. By comparison fellow rookie Alex Rossi has claimed 12 top 15 finishes, 5 of which were in the top 10. And keep in mind that Chilton has been running for Ganassi, in the optimum Dallara/Chevrolet combination.
By contrast Rossi has been peddalling the Dallara/Honda for Andretti Autosport – the chassi/aero/engine packaged that has scored an exceptionally poor 2 wins this season.
The lack of testing and track time in IndyCar
Mike Hull defended Chilton’s results, maligning the lack of testing and track time and the impact it has on blooding new talent. Hull is spot on but in this instance it is a fairly weak argument.
In 2015 Chilton raced IndyLights at St Petersburg, Long Beach, the GP of Alabama, the Indy road course, Indy oval course, Iowa and Mid-Ohio. By contrast Alexander Rossi had never raced on any IndyCar circuits until he turned up on Friday morning for first practice.
For most rookies, a season like Chilton’s would represent a reasonable return. For a rookie running with Ganassi Racing, using the optimum chassi/engine/aero combination, benefitting from the advice of Dario Franchitti plus Dixon and Kanaan, and familiar with nearly half of the circuits on the schedule it seems at best underwhelming.
Based on the performances so far this season, Ganassi should be trying to snap up Alexander Rossi on a multi-year contract and not Chilton.
The timing of Chilton potentially securing a multi-year deal with Ganassi, right after Target confirmed their departure, looks a little more than mere coincidence. In IndyCar circa 2016 even Chip Ganassi has to keep balancing the books.
Chilton brings with him financial support and backing – in a similar manner to team-mate Charlie Kimball. The Gallagher sponsorship he has run in 2016 comes via his father, a multi-millionaire insurance broker. With Target going and rumours that NTT Data prefer Tony Kanaan over Scott Dixon, injections of cash will be welcomed.
How the other half lives
By contrast Rossi has run the majority of the season in effectively a sponsor-free car – aside from the occassional NAPA and Castrol backing (boy did NAPA score the sponsorship deal of the century backing Rossi on the way to his Indy 500 win). Given the relative lack of interest in F1 in the USA and Rossi’s European pedigree, whoever he runs for in 2017 will need to work hard to find some willing sponsors, and they will need to do it quickly.
Chilton has probably done enough this season to justify a second year in IndyCar. But aside from the accountants at Chip Ganassi Racing, I can’t think of many people (Mike Hull included) who would agree it truly justifies a multi-year deal.