AVONDALE, Arizona – If history is any indication, it’s not if Carlin will win in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but when.
The British-based racing team has taken a methodical step-by-step approach in every series entered around the world, building reasonable expectations each year on its way to eventual victories and championships.
Although Carlin’s official Verizon IndyCar Series debut waits for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11, a combination of factors has team namesake and principal Trevor Carlin excited over the prospects, as he spoke Saturday during the Phoenix open test at ISM Raceway.
Those factors include the new car for 2018 with its universal aero kit and the veteran drivers he has employed – Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball – who were teammates the last two seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing and who both drove for Carlin in the past.
“It’s fabulous,” Trevor Carlin said. “Apart from Will Power and Scott Dixon as your two carryover teammates, it’s as good as we could get. They’re great guys. We know them well, they work hard, they know the team. It’s a good situation.”
Although Carlin won in its debut race in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires – the top rung of the INDYCAR-sanctioned Mazda Road to Indy development ladder – on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2015, the expectations are tempered with the move up to North America’s premier open-wheel series.
“Yeah, we know our place,” said Carlin, who captured the 2016 Indy Lights title with new Chip Ganassi Racing driver Ed Jones. “We know we’ve got to work hard. We know we’ve got to put a good car out for the guys to get respectable results.
“We’re not expecting to fight the Ganassis and the Penskes and the Andrettis (on) Day 1, but if we could just start creeping up the field every event, I’d like to say mid-season and the second half of the season we could have some decent results.”
The journey to this point has seen roughly 80 percent of Carlin’s Indy Lights staff moved up to the Verizon IndyCar Series program, pushing 18-hour days, seven days a week for the past two months to get the cars ready. For Chilton, who captured four wins for Carlin during his time in British Formula 3, GP2 and Indy Lights, he already sees the payoff to their hard work.
“Carlin are incredibly professional and so they just worked through the night to get the car how they wanted it for the first time out on track,” said Chilton, who led the most laps (51) and finished fourth in last year’s Indianapolis 500 with Ganassi. Chilton completed 264 laps in the ISM Raceway open test, with his best lap in the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet a modest 185.558 mph indicative of the team’s measured approach.
“We tested for three or four days (at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course and Sebring International Raceway) and had no mechanical issues, just (electronics), which is typical 21st-century technology for you. The car was flawless straight out of the box.”
Kimball, who captured five wins and 13 podiums en route to second in the 2005 British Formula 3 championship with Carlin, said the return felt like “coming home.” Kimball has great faith in the team’s INDYCAR effort is because of Trevor Carlin’s drive and focus.
“He’s built this from the ground up,” said Kimball, winner of the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in his third season. “He loves it, he’s passionate about it, he loves being at the racetrack. I think he’s miserable during a winter because he’s not at a racetrack. And he’s so competitive. This is everything to him.
“He said to me, ‘We’re not here to make up numbers, we’re here to be successful.’”
And the boss isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty either, added Kimball, who completed 274 laps in the open test and was a tick faster than Chilton with a best lap of 186.177 mph in the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet.
“I’ve seen him get in and be up to his elbows cleaning cars that have been off, working on cars and carrying tires,” Kimball said. “And he wants the right kind of people. He wants people that are young and hungry – young perspective, young attitude, fresh looks.
“It’s worked for him in the past and there’s no reason to think it won’t be successful in INDYCAR, and I think a lot of people are going to have to up their game.”
Although the hope is to always come out of the starting blocks strong, Carlin’s aforementioned methodical approach has focusing on the month of May.
“I think Indy road course should be in good shape because that’s our style of racing that we’re used to, the style of setup,” said Carlin. “We’ve done pretty well on the Indy 500 circuit (winning the Freedom 100 last season Indy Lights with AJ Foyt Racing rookie Matheus Leist). I don’t expect it to go quite as well in INDYCAR, but you never know with the 500. It’s one of those races that I think everyone says, ‘The track picks the winner. You don’t pick it, it picks you.’
“We’ll turn up, do our bit, have a bit of luck, hopefully not screw up too much and try and stay in the game for the last 50 laps.”