Going for the championship and possibly expanding its Lights lineup is the current priority, but Trevor Carlin admits the IndyCar Series is “the whole reason" the team came to the United States.
Carlin told Motorsport.com: “It’s all about doing it right and fighting for wins. And so we’re not going to move up to IndyCar until we’re ready. So for now, we’re just focusing on getting at least two fast drivers in the Indy Lights team.
“We’d like to expand our lineup – if we can, we will, but if not, that’s fine. We’ll still concentrate on going for the championship.”
It was only last winter that the British team established a U.S. base in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., as Carlin chose the 2015 introduction of the new Indy Lights chassis/engine-spec as the ideal opportunity to join the series.
Right out of the box, Ed Jones won the first three races of the season, and in the summer, ex-Formula 1 driver Max Chilton added a fourth victory for the team.
“I’m pretty disappointed we didn’t go on and win the championship in Year 1,” admitted Carlin. “We should have done, really. But we had various issues – a bad weekend at Indy, couple of missed races for Max, a couple of unforced errors – without those, we’d have had two drivers at the finale with a shot at the title.”
Aiming high as sophomores
Trevor Carlin said he had no problem with expanding the Lights team although he said it was a slower process than he’d expected.
“We have found the US is a different marketplace in the offseason – driver signings come together slower. So I’m expecting there to be a little bit of action in December/January time.
“But I’m happy Ed’s all signed and confirmed; I think he’s going to be even stronger now he has a season under his belt. So we’ve done some testing as we work on finding a second driver and once we’ve got Ed’s teammate finalized, we’ll work on Driver 3 and maybe even Driver 4.
“But we’re looking for winners. There are decent drivers out there, but I can’t say that any one’s really caught our eye.”
Carlin is confident that the best young drivers available will have his team on their shortlist, despite being less well established than traditional Lights ace Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and despite Juncos Racing winning the Lights crown with Spencer Pigot.
“I think if drivers or driver managers are looking for a team, I think they’d be ill-advised if they didn’t look at us, put it that way,” said Carlin. “I mean, we won our first three races in the States.
"Now, if Max [Chilton, Jones’ 2015 teammate] had won them, you’d maybe say, ‘OK, that’s because he’s an ex-Formula 1 driver.’ But it was Ed who did the winning; that’s an F3 driver returning to racing after a serious back injury!
“I suppose if there were more ovals on the schedule, maybe that would swing a young driver more toward one of the more good U.S.-established teams, but Lights only races on three ovals – and we won one of them last year [with Chilton]!
"Ovals were definitely a challenge, but I think we came to grips with them quite quickly; one more day of testing and I reckon we’d have had a top three at Indy, for example. We can be strong on all types of track.”
Although Carlin admitted annoyance at not winning the Indy Lights championship, he agreed that as rookies to not only the series but to the whole U.S. racing scene and its tracks, Carlin Racing made a strong impression.
“Yeah, I think people see we’re not just another load of foreign blokes,” he said. “I mean, this time last year, we didn’t have an Indy Lights team, didn’t even have a U.S. base, didn’t even have a person on the ground in the States. Now we have a team, we’ve got people – and we’ve got knowledge.
“We’ll have at least two cars out there and maybe one or two more. I’m hoping we can help get the grid up to 17 or 18 cars, which will help the perception, the credibility of the series, because that expansion has a snowball effect. It attracts more sponsors, more teams, more drivers.
“Indy Lights is a great series, these are great cars, really demanding to drive, good preparation for IndyCar, and so on. Dan Andersen [Mazda Road To Indy promoter] has come up with a very good package.”
IndyCar – walk, don’t run
While there has been speculation over when Carlin Racing might expand to competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Trevor Carlin says that plans for graduation are “some way off.”
He said: “We have no infrastructure in place. We could rent a car and do a one-off race, and there’s nothing to suggest that might not happen at some point. But I’m not getting into it without a firm plan in place. We want to be a fully-fledged team that can be contending for victories.
“What I can say, though, is that once we embark on that journey, we’re going to stay doing it.”
Asked if he’d consider what rival Indy Lights team owner Sam Schmidt did before expanding full-time into IndyCar – running extra cars for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Indy 500 – Carlin responded positively.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent, that would be a great opportunity,” he stated. “At some point we’ve got to dip our toes in the water and although I wouldn’t necessarily expect that next year, I’ll keep on pushing. If I can make something like that happen, I will.
“That’s in our nature, and eventually racing IndyCars is why we’re in the States. But it’s also in our nature to do it right. I want to come in strong, contend for wins, then win a race, win more races and eventually fight for a championship. We won’t come in before we’re ready.”