INDIANAPOLIS – There is a different look to Carlin this time around. And it hasn’t come without some growing pains.
Usually a two-car outfit in the NTT IndyCar Series, the sophomore squad entered three cars for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. While it has been a massive undertaking, the expansion has been aided by familiarity within the driver lineup, as part-time pilots Charlie Kimball and Patricio O’Ward join series regular Max Chilton.
The endeavor hasn’t come without its fair share of obstacles for O’Ward, the series rookie and 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion. The driver of the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet suffered gearbox problems on Tuesday’s opening day of practice, delaying completion of his rookie orientation program until Wednesday. On Thursday, just more than an hour into practice, O’Ward spun and made heavy contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier.
The 20-year-old Mexican was uninjured, but his car sustained extensive damage and didn’t return to the track before practice ended early at 4:30 p.m. ET due to lightning and approaching rain.
“Oh, I hit hard,” O’Ward admitted. “I felt it all through my body. I’m a bit sore, but the good thing is we’re OK. It looks like I just lost it, I guess.
“I’m just happy I’m OK, and I know the team is going to get stuff ready for the next session or at least tomorrow.”
While O’Ward has faced difficulties, IMS has been a welcome return for Kimball, who has competed only in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March this season.
“I'm really excited,” said Kimball, driver of the No. 23 Fiasp Carlin Chevrolet who is scheduled for five races this season. “Anytime I can get back in the car, it's a lot of fun. It really gets me out of bed in the morning and it has been different this year.
“I've learned a lot as a driver not being the car and watching. I think maybe that's played into the start of this month and this week of practice.”
On Wednesday, Kimball turned a lap of 227.472 mph around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, with the aid of an aero tow from a leading car. On Thursday, when more drivers ran four-lap qualifying simulations with less traffic on the course, Kimball’s best lap was just 224.797 mph, but it ranked sixth on the all-important no-tow list.
Kimball said he feels more comfortable in his second year with Carlin after seven seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Coming back here in Year 2 with the Carlin guys, the baseline is just like night and day from last year,” said Kimball, who finished third in the 2015 Indy 500.
“We didn't know what we didn't know last year. And we come here this year and right away there's just a foundational understanding of the car. The guys have worked so hard over the winter, and it's nice because we don't have to be running all of the time to try and learn what we need to learn. We can be deliberate in our track time.”
Colin Hale, team manager of Carlin, has been at the forefront of every task in assembling the three-car program. Hale said the team dipped into its “depth of resources,” bringing over personnel from its home base in England where Carlin operates racing programs in several junior open-wheel series.
Hale said the expansion to three cars is “a huge advantage” in adding to the pool of data and information available.
“We’ve got great depth and experience with Max and Charlie and we've got some relatively low experience with Patricio, but his enthusiasm is really pushing the guys on,” Hale said. “Not just the drivers, but the team as well.
“It really helps move everything forward to try and hit the ground running a little bit more than where we were last year based on it was our first Indy 500.”
Carlin was relatively conservative with its goals a year ago and, in some ways, overachieved with one top-five finish in the season, six top-10s and zero mechanical failures. The expectations remain tempered for the Indy 500 again this year.
“We're a little bit more confident now this year than we were last year just because we've got one under our belt,” Hale said. “From an engineering point of view and from a logistical point of view, it's much easier, but I'll be happy just to get three cars to the finish.
“As I say, what will be, will be, and if we can get a good result, then it'll be even better.”
The final practice prior to Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying weekend takes place Friday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. ET and streams live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold.
Qualifying on Saturday will lock in the first 30 spots in the field and airs on INDYCAR Pass from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and on NBCSN from 5-6 p.m. Sunday’s final qualifying day has the Last Row Shootout to decide the final three spots in the field and the Fast Nine Shootout to determine the pole sitter and starting order of the first three rows. Sunday’s competition airs live on NBC from noon-3 p.m.
Tickets for Indy 500 activities are available at IMS.com.