Wednesday, October 3, 2018

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Carlin's 2018 Season

The third IndyCar Wrap-Up brings us to the second new team of the 2018 season. Carlin had spent the prior three years contesting in Indy Lights. The team won a dozen races and the 2016 championship with Ed Jones in those three years, adding to an impressive résumé that includes championships in the British Formula Three championship, Formula Renault 3.5 Series, GP3 Series, F4 British Championship and the European Formula Three Championship with drivers such as Takuma Sato, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Éric Vergne, Felipe Nasr, Jack Harvey, Mikhail Aleshin, Robert Wickens and Lando Norris.

Charlie Kimball did a respectable job in year one with Carlin
Charlie Kimball
After seven seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing, the English-born Californian made a move to the team with which he finished second in the 2005 British Formula Three Series championship. While there were growing pains, Kimball fought through and picked up a few inspiring results for Carlin in the team's first year.

What objectively was his best race?
Toronto, in what was a shocking but encouraging fifth place finish. Kimball started 20th and a handful of cautions paired with well-timed pit stops helped Kimball get to the front of the field but he was competitive. He didn't settle into the position and hold up the rest of the field while finishing fifth. He pushed James Hinchcliffe for fourth and both Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars were quick that weekend. On top of that, Kimball led one lap during a pit cycle.

What subjectively was his best race?
There were three other races to point out where Kimball went from the back of the grid to a top ten result. He went from 23rd to 10th at Long Beach, 21st to eighth in the second Belle Isle race and 25th to seventh at Portland.

The most impressive of the three in my mind is the Belle Isle race because of the lack of cautions. There was one caution for the first three laps and the remaining 67 laps were green. Both Long Beach and Portland races had a fair share of cautions that helped bunch up the field, leapfrogged drivers who made a pit stop before a caution came out and really mixed up the results.

In this Belle Isle race, Kimball got into the top ten off a mixture of strategy and speed. That only caution allowed Kimball to stop on lap two and go to a three-stop strategy without having to sacrifice time on track but when there are 67 consecutive green flag laps you don't get into the top ten just because of a well-timed pit stop under caution on lap two. His final stop was on lap 46 and he came out in 13th. He earned those last few positions because he could drive flat out down the stretch while the two-stoppers had to pedal their cars home. He still had to make the moves and Belle Isle is not known for being a pass-happy racetrack.

What objectively was his worst race?
Barber, where Kimball was the only car not to make it to Monday. He had a spun in the penultimate corner in the wet, collided with the barrier and that was it. His race was over after ten laps and in 23rd position.

What subjectively was his worst race?
This is tough because there wasn't a wasted top ten starting position and Kimball was up front from the start only to have a bad pit stop or a collision with another driver or off-track excursion cost him a respectable result.

I think it would be easier to point out Kimball's qualifying record as an area that needs to improve. He has never been a great qualifier but after covering a handful of races where Kimball went from outside the top twenty to a top ten result, Kimball falls in that class of drivers where you think the results could be so much better if he started further up the grid. This was Kimball's worst season in terms of averaging starting position at 19.5 and his best starting position was 12th at Texas. He never made it out of the first round of qualifying on road/street courses.

Charlie Kimball's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 17th (287 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 6
Laps Led: 1
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 19.5
Average Finish: 15.0

It was a trying year for Max Chilton
Max Chilton
After two seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, Chilton was a shoe-in to join Carlin once it joined the IndyCar grid. Chilton and Carlin's relationship has gone through British Formula Three, the GP2 Series and Indy Lights.

What objectively was his best race?
An 11th-place finish in the second Belle Isle race. Kind of like his teammate, Chilton stopped on lap two and was on the three-stop strategy. He was ahead of Kimball for majority of this race and the teammates ran with a position of each of for most of it. Chilton stopped the lap after Kimball on the final round of pit stops and he got out ahead of Kimball but Kimball was moving and passed Chilton on lap 54, as did Simon Pagenaud. Chilton would lose a few more spots to Marco Andretti and Zach Veach but got two spots back after Alexander Rossi's tire failure and Veach fell back afterward to let Rossi by and get him an additional point, elevating Chilton to 11th but an 11th that could have been a few spots better.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is hard to draw a lot of positives from a season where there Chilton did not score a top ten finish but Portland is a race to highlight for Chilton. He started 15th but the first lap incident put him into the top ten and he spent the first stint running in the top ten and it seemed like things were lining up where he could end up with a top ten finish and then Chilton was the only driver caught out by the final caution. This cost him a top ten result. The team left him out and he led ten laps before having to make his final pit stop. He came out in 18th and he finished in 18th. To add insult to injury, Chilton had to come back down pit road the lap after and any hope of picking his way through slower cars with fresher tires and loads of fuel to burn was killed before he ever had a chance to shine.

What objectively was his worst race?
Mid-Ohio. He started sixth and ran into the back of Takuma Sato on lap two, spinning out the Japanese driver and leading to a drive-through penalty for Chilton on lap four. That dropped Chilton to 21st and on lap nine Chilton made his first pit stop and he was down to 24th. He was a lap down two laps later and Chilton never got off the bottom, lost another lap in a deflating 24th place result.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It has to be Mid-Ohio. Entering this race, Carlin had never made it out of the first round of qualifying on a road/street course and Chilton had the team's only top ten starting position through that point when he started tenth in the first Belle Isle race. Chilton had finally set the team up from a position of power. All he had to do was hold serve. If Chilton had run sixth all race or even if he had dropped to eighth that would have been fine but any shot at a top ten result was over before two laps could be completed.

Max Chilton's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 19th (223 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 10
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 17.375
Average Finish: 17.941

An Early Look Ahead
Kimball might not be back in 2019. That is a bit of a surprise but we know it isn't because of results. Kimball had more top ten finishes in 2018 than he did in 2017 with Ganassi. He finished 17th in the championship for the second consecutive year and he scored 40 fewer points than 2017. It is money. The funding continues to shrink and if Kimball doesn't have the funds then Carlin will find somebody else who can keep that car on the grid.

It would be a loss for the team if Kimball finds himself on the outside. The team needs someone to build around and Kimball gets results. They aren't always pretty but he finds a way into the top ten.

There were some swirling rumors about a possible third car for Carlin in 2019 and with Ed Jones out at Ganassi he was the first and really only name to come to mind of who would fill that third seat. Jones has a relationship with Carlin that extends back to the days of Formula Three in Europe. He came over with the team to the United States when Carlin entered Indy Lights and Jones won the first three Indy Lights races the team participated in and the following year Jones took the Indy Lights title for Carlin.

If Kimball is out and Jones has the money, it would make sense the seat would be his and he and Chilton would reunite. I don't know where Carlin will fall if Kimball is not there. I think it would be better for the team if it retained Kimball and Chilton. After a rough sophomore season at Chip Ganassi Racing I am not sure Jones is the guy that can pick the team up.

So if it is not Kimball, who could possibly enter and help carry the team forward? Kimball can't be the only guy who can carry Carlin to the front. It is difficult to find a veteran and Carlin possibly has to go the route of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and hire a Robert Wickens-type driver to elevate the team up the grid. We see Ganassi doing something similar with its hire of Felix Rosenqvist.

Carlin has ties to plenty of drivers but the one name already in IndyCar to keep an eye on is Pietro Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi looked good at the end of the season despite being banged up and with Dale Coyne Racing set to have Santino Ferrucci in its second car full-time, Fittipaldi is a valuable free agent but will have suitors from all series around the world. He could be the one guy next year who could make a splash that many are forgetting about.

Carlin laid a foundation in 2018 and it has some work to do. The team probably knew it wasn't going to enter IndyCar and immediately take a place at the front of the grid but it made its first steps in 2018 and it knows what to repeat and what has to change for 2019. It got the milestones that you want to tick off the board. It got lead lap finishes; it got top ten finishes and even a top five. It showed it could have the pace to advance to the Fast Six. Now it is a time to tackle the other boxes on the board. Instead of one top five finish, it is time for multiple top five finishes. It is time for both cars to make it out of the first round of qualifying and finish in the top ten. It should be gunning for a podium finish and it should shoot to crack the top fifteen in the championship.

The sophomore year does not get any easier. All you have is the knowledge of what not to do but that doesn't necessarily mean you have the answers for success.