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Max Chilton high on life heading into tonight’s Phoenix race


Chris Owens / IMS Photo 2016

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Things are looking fairly great for IndyCar’s new No. 8 – rookie Max Chilton of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.

The 24-year-old Englishman will roll off eighth for today’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the best start of his thus far two-race Verizon IndyCar Series career.

He’s actually the first driver who broke Luyendyk’s prior track record at Phoenix from 1996 in Friday qualifying, when he clicked off a 190.006 mph lap on the first of qualifying (although it was beaten as the day went on).

He’s also nearly eight years into a relationship with girlfriend Chloe Roberts, who he proposed to in the break between the St. Petersburg season opener and Phoenix this weekend.

For Chilton, life is good as he continues to appreciate the comfort level he has racing in America while still maintaining his UK roots.

“Ever since I came here for the start of last year, in Indy Lights, it’s so open and welcoming,” Chilton told NBC Sports.

And one of the luminaries who’ve made Chilton feel right at home is Mario Andretti.

In a recent Autosport article, Andretti said Chilton arrived with his Iowa Speedway win in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

“Here again, it shows the moments of brilliance,” Andretti told Autosport’s Bruce Martin. “It shows that he can be versatile, which is huge. I think it is a huge attribute to any driver to show versatility. That is why Chip Ganassi hired him.

“Chip has always had a very good eye for drivers. Here is a guy with a bright future ahead of him and the best is yet to be seen.”

Ganassi, too, took the opportunity to praise him at St. Petersburg.

“We try to find successful guys with their future and want to do well, want to grow and be part of the team. I think Max has certainly some potential,” Ganassi told assembled reporters in St. Petersburg.

Chilton, understandably, was flattered by the praise.

“(Andretti’s) comments prove it! I’ve never done him any favors. He’s given me such kind words. It’s nice to know,” he said.

Things are a bit different for Chilton this week, with a new spotter and with team driver coach Dario Franchitti not at Phoenix owing to his commentary commitments for the FIA Formula E Championship. Franchitti still busts his chops, though...

But he’s still focused and determined to do his best even with the changes.

“Every race weekend is different. For the spotter, at the end of the day, you’re telling them what you want them to say, and thus far the spotter is doing a good job,” he said.

“And Dario gave me a lot of info before I came here, and he said he’s only a phone call away. That gives you a lot of confidence.”

As for the engagement? Chilton’s had it planned.

“It was the plan – seven years in the making!” Chilton said. “I always knew where I’d do it.

“I’m just glad I put the GoPro there. There’s things you just don’t remember! It’s great to see where it was.

“It was worse for her. She was so shocked. But I was planning it!”

He’ll be looking for more celebration tonight, as he’s already more comfortable at Phoenix in his second trip to the 1.022-mile oval after his first test there in February.

Follow @TonyDiZinno