Friday, January 26, 2018

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: Carlin

The fourth IndyCar team preview and final team preview for the month of January brings us to our first new team! Carlin enters IndyCar with an internationally pedigree. The team has won 17 drivers' championships across six different championships. The team expanded its operation to the United States in 2015, entering Indy Lights with the introduction of the Dallara IL-15 chassis. Carlin has won 11 races over three seasons in Indy Lights. The team enters IndyCar with two familiar faces not only to the team but to the IndyCar grid.

2017 Carlin Review:
Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Final Championship Positions: None. It's a new team!

2018 Drivers:

Charlie Kimball - #23 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet
After having a career-year in 2016, the British-born Californian could not get out of his own way in 2017. Kimball was involved in first lap incidents in the first two races and an alternate fuel strategy at Barber saw Kimball fail to pick up a top ten finish in the first three races, a lengthy drought compared to his 2016 season. While he finished eighth at Phoenix, a pair of engine failures in each of the Indianapolis races had Kimball 20th in the championship. Another retirement at Belle Isle gave him three consecutive finishes outside the top twenty and that was followed by an eighth in race two. Kimball picked up his first career pole position but a mechanical issue after his first pit stop ended his race after 41 laps, 26 of which he led. He would pick up three top ten finishes in the final eight races but Kimball was more remembered for his overaggressive driving in the late stages of the season, especially at Gateway.

Numbers to Remember:
0: Top five finishes in 2017.

5: Kimball had at least one top five finish in the previous five seasons.

13.3: Average finish in 117 IndyCar starts, all with Chip Ganassi Racing.

22: Kimball has finished ahead of Max Chilton 22 times out of 33 starts.

If there is one hope for Kimball it is he can return to his reliable driving style in 2018 because Carlin needs to complete laps in year one. Kimball had completed more than 2,000 laps each season from 2013 to 2016 and he completed the most laps in each 2013 and 2017. Last year, he completed 1,943 laps, the 16th-most. If Kimball can plug away and finish races on the lead lap or at worst a lap down, not only will Carlin get to gather data and learn but the team could have a respectable finish in year one.

I don't think Kimball will try to over drive the car but I think his results will be hampered by the growing pains of a new team. Historically, Kimball has not been a strong qualifier and I would not be surprised if his average starting position is lower than his career average of 14.3. He will get a few top tens but be somewhere around where he was in 2017 and not because of erratic driving.

Max Chilton - #59 Gallagher Chevrolet
This British-born Brit avoided the sophomore slump despite not picking up his first top ten finish until the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where Chilton finished seventh. In the Indianapolis 500 Chilton started 15th, seven positions better than his rookie year. In the race, an alternate strategy, a fortunate caution and a sturdy Honda engine had Chilton in position to win the race. He led 50 laps, the most in the race and he was in the top five coming down the stretch. However, the likes of Takuma Sato, Hélio Castroneves and Ed Jones separated from Chilton and he finished in a comfortable fourth-place. The early summer featured top ten finishes at Texas, Road America and Toronto for Chilton but his relationship with Chip Ganassi Racing soured and showed its ugly head at Pocono when a wastegate issue forced the team to park the car at the dismay of Chilton. He overcame that and an accident at Gateway to salvage 11th in the championship from the final two races.

Numbers to Remember:
9: Lead lap finishes in each of his first two IndyCar seasons.

14: Races running at the finish of in each of his first two IndyCar seasons.

14.1: Average finish in 33 IndyCar starts, all with Chip Ganassi Racing.

3.9: Improvement of average finish from 16.1 in 2016 to 12.2 in 2017.

This team is kind of being built around Chilton. If it weren't for Chilton I am not sure Carlin would be making this entrance into IndyCar or at least I am not sure Carlin would enter as a two-car team. Chilton improved in year two but he still has a ways to go to be a championship contender.

Like Kimball, Chilton has a history of bringing the car home. He did it in Formula One and he has done it in IndyCar. He has retired from only five races in his short IndyCar career and while four of those have been accidents, three of those have been out of his control as the first at Belle Isle in 2016 was due to suspension breaking on the rough track and in the next race he was an innocent bystander at chain reaction incident at the start. He was also one of the many drivers that had nowhere to go in the turn one lap one incident at Phoenix last year. As with Kimball, if Chilton completes laps the team will gather data and will have more to build on for 2019 and beyond. I think Chilton brings the car home but results will be down from 2017.

Looking at Carlin, this is the first new team in IndyCar since 2012 when Ed Carpenter Racing was established and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing expanded to a full-time operation. This season is more about completing a checklist. Get a lead lap finish, get both cars to finish on the lead lap, get a top ten finish, get a car to the second round of qualifying and so on. Carlin is a respectable organization and it is asking a lot to expect the team to come out and win races in year one but I would not be surprised if come Road America people are saying, "How about Carlin?" I won't set the bar too high. I think if the team can get six to ten top ten finishes between the two cars and can get one car in the top 12 of the championship that would be viewed as a successful debut season.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.