Knock-on Effects Possible With New Carlin Connections

Charlie Kimball navigates St. Petersburg IndyCar street circuit

Between now and the conclusion of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, Carlin will work with arguably the most promising young driver on the IndyCar scene, another of two-time world championship caliber and unquestionably one of the most successful brands in motor sports history.

While Max Chilton goes about his program for a second full season in the No. 59 Chevrolet, Charlie Kimball will contest five races in the No. 23 entry while reigning Indy Lights champion Pato O’Ward steps in for the 12 other events. When O’Ward switches to a separate car for his Indianapolis 500 debut in May, Carlin will effectively compete as a four-car operation as it quietly aids Fernando Alonso’s triple crown bid in tandem with McLaren Racing.

Centered around these alignments is a more complicated IndyCar program than Carlin managed during its debut season in 2018, due mostly to only one car being straightforward with a single driver for all events, but the potential contained within is unparalleled.

In O’Ward, team owner Trevor Carlin has picked up a fiery youngster who makes no effort to contain his interest in beating IndyCar’s finest. Heads that turned toward the Mexican when he transferred to the Firestone Fast Six in his series debut at Sonoma Raceway last September have been given no reason to look away and he perhaps has more attention after walking away from his full-time ride that didn’t exist at Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

“Part of the history with Carlin is we specialize in working with young drivers,” Carlin stated during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend. “I’m always looking for talent, being in Formula 4, Formula 3, Indy Lights. Thanks to our involvement in Indy Lights, it got us into the States. I’m looking at the young drivers.”

Pato O'Ward speaks with St. Pete IndyCar media
Pato O’Ward was publicly welcomed as a Carlin driver during IndyCar’s curtain-raiser weekend in St. Pete. | Photo: Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media

To Carlin, his new young driver has good reason to expect to hit the ground running.

“I saw last year the fantastic battle with Patricio and Colton Herta,” said Carlin. “Colton Herta is an ex-Carlin driver from Europe. He had a young teammate, a kid called Lando Norris. I saw Colton and Lando Norris fighting tooth and nail. I said in 2015 Lando Norris will become a Formula One driver and Colton Herta will be an IndyCar driver. That’s happened.

“In the meantime, I’ve seen Patricio beat Colton. To my mind, it’s a really simple analogy: Patricio is as good as Colton and Lando and is going to be a future champion. I’m super excited.”

McLaren’s connection with Carlin will run too deep for most anyone to notice, but adding a fourth car to an already significant data pool of three would ratchet any team forward, particularly at the tricky Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With Alonso in the cockpit, the impact could be spectacular.

“We’re helping them as a logistical and operational partner on this project,” Carlin said. “It’s interesting: Our team is based very close to McLaren in the U.K. We have a good relationship already. They’re good guys.

“They get into things at a very deep level. They have massive resource — a big company. Obviously, for them, this is a spec car, so a lot of the things they’d love to do, they’re not allowed to do. We’re trying to help them understand what they can and can’t do. I’m sure they’ll be pushing the boundaries. Ultimately we will benefit from what they learn with Fernando.

“It should be a win-win. We’re giving them a baseline. Hopefully, they’ll take it forward and we’ll piggyback along that journey.”

Max Chilton on Grand Prix of St. Petersburg pit lane
Carlin’s lone full-time driver may benefit from teaming with Pato O’Ward and, more quietly, Fernando Alonso. | Photo: Jamie Sheldrick / Spacesuit Media

Chilton returning full-time, Kimball being back in a superspeedway-focused capacity, O’Ward aligning his goals with Carlin’s rather than competing against them and McLaren bringing its expertise, perspective and star driver aboard for IndyCar’s crown jewel — it’s what dreams are made of for second-year team owners.

“Twelve months ago, we were just about to enter our first-ever IndyCar race — only had a second car for a week,” Carlin said. “The whole team — nobody in our team had done IndyCar before.

“We’re, 12 months down the road, a well-organized team. I think our presentation is very high. We’ve done everything necessary. What we haven’t had is results. To get results, it’s a package. Part of that package is the drivers.

“Having Patricio onboard, we’ve done a load of testing with R.C. Enerson, who showed us there’s more potential in the car. Of course, then what happens, our current drivers, Max and Charlie, they lift their game. The whole thing is starting to spiral upwards.”

Next, Mr. Carlin made the roadmap clear.

“Our next target is podiums,” he said. “When we can get regular podiums, we’ll fight for that elusive first win.”

O’Ward’s team debut will highlight Carlin’s next race weekend at Circuit of The Americas on the weekend of March 22–24.

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