Charlie Kimball says that the switch to rookie IndyCar squad Carlin Racing, from one of the series superteams, Chip Ganassi Racing, offers him a great opportunity to grow.
Carlin has become one of the legendary teams in junior formulas in Europe over the past 20 years, but it was 2015 when it first expanded to America with an Indy Lights team. The squad has won 12 races in the Lights series over the past three years, took Ed Jones to the drivers’ title in 2016, and this year has graduated to the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Chip Ganassi halved his IndyCar entry from four cars to two for 2018, allowing Trevor Carlin to grab Kimball (seven-year-veteran of the series) and Max Chilton (two) to for his inaugural season in IndyCar. The pair qualified 20th and 21st and finished 19th and 20th on the team’s debut at St. Petersburg, and this weekend tackles Phoenix’s ISM Raceway for Round 2.
Kimball spoke to David Malsher ahead of what will be the American’s 105th IndyCar race.
DM: Your post-race comments at St. Petersburg sounded pretty tough considering the team was new…
CK: Well, I think my comments were misinterpreted. What I said was that, as a team, we’re not there to finish where we did at St. Pete, but that was the only missing piece of a very complete puzzle. So yes, the results were disappointing, but both cars ran every single lap. For a team that had not a single piece of an IndyCar by October 1 last year, to show up five months later and put two IndyCars on the grid and run every practice lap and every qualifying lap and every race lap, do pitstops live for the first time… No one dropped the car without wheels properly attached.
The guys made a monumental effort when suppliers have been challenged in getting parts to teams. There still isn’t a vast library of spares.
So my point was, we aren’t there to finish where we finished, but for Race 1, we ticked every other box.
Looking ahead to Phoenix, did you feel that Carlin lived up to your expectations in the preseason test there?
They blew my expectations out of the water. Again, the car was rock solid – no mechanical issues, no question marks. We were just able to focus on balance and grip, and the team was very methodical. Having Davey Hamilton [eight-time podium finisher in the first four years of the Indy Racing League] on my pitstand was a godsend because he helped as an ex-driver – and as a sanity-check! – as we developed the car through the testing program. I’m proud of the mechanics, the team manager, the crews – everyone involved.
When you’re racing teams with 10, 20, 40 years or more experience at this level, it’s a monumental task to be on par, and every session at Phoenix we kept climbing up the leaderboard. We kept learning and getting better and better, and that’s even though it was very rare for us to be chasing lap time in those two days. When we go back there next week, we know exactly where we’re starting from. Again, that’s impressive for what will be only Carlin’s second race at this level.
Someone said to me at St. Pete, ‘Charlie must be relieved to have the burden of expectation lifted by not being at Ganassi’ but I pointed out that we’re talking about Carlin who succeed in every series they race in…
Well yeah, there’s that aspect, but also, if anyone thinks that the expectation of any team owner is greater than what I expect of myself, then they don’t know me at all.
But does it feel good to switch from Ganassi, which is great but sort of guided by Scott Dixon, to a team where the onus is on you to help steer the team? You’re seen as the veteran so you have to bring a lot more than just driving skills…
It is a different challenge and a different work level, for sure. But it is also a great opportunity for me to grow. With our experience, it’s down to Max and I to lead this team to the results we want from it, and that is going to be very rewarding as well as challenging. So you’re right, it’s a different role, but it makes me excited about the chance to help lead Carlin to good results.
There is a part of me that says, ‘I hope we lead them down the right path!’ But the nice thing is, as drivers we’re an integral part of the team, and Carlin does have a huge amount of experience in a lot of different types of racing. So we are able to help them translate that performance to IndyCar, and that’s a lot of fun.
I realize it’s hard to say after just one race, but at the end of this season, what would you be able to regard as a satisfactory result?
Hmmm… it’s going to sound like a cop-out answer, but the satisfaction would be every single member of the team being able to look back and say, ‘We have done everything we knew how, we gave our best effort in every session – test, practice, qualifying, race – throughout the whole year.’
To my mind, the results will always take care of themselves. If you focus on the results, you lose focus on the performance, when the performance is ultimately what leads to the results. All we can do is the best job we can every time we show up at the track. We can’t control the other 22 cars, or when the yellow flags are going to fall, how the weather might change the pattern of the race, etc.
Do you find the simplified aerokits helpful in these circumstances, or are you feeling your hands are tied?
A little bit of both, honestly. As a very technically-minded driver, the more development options we have, the more data that’s available, the more things there are to try, the more my strengths come to the fore. But as a new team, it’s more important to us to keep things sensible, and when the rules help keep things in a smaller box, it means we have less to find to be on a level playing field.
Whenever there’s a new formula, everyone starts fairly close and then gaps between the front and the back of the grid stretch out over the course of a season. Are you confident Carlin has the wherewithal to keep pace with – let alone gain on – established frontrunners?
I think so. We will definitely have a steeper learning curve – there’s simply more for us to learn, more need for us to catch up. But it’s kinda asymptotic. The big teams, with all their experience and data, have smaller things to find. We’re still finding big chunks to get there. So we will get a lot closer before we start finding those little things to catch up.