O’Ward gets Carlin call-up for Road America

Patricio O’Ward’s rookie season with Carlin Racing will continue at Road America.

Facing uncertainty after depleting his limited budget in May, the 2018 Indy Lights champion raced most recently at Detroit with the support of team sponsor Gallagher Insurance, and will resume his part-time campaign this weekend in Wisconsin wearing the company’s colors on the No. 31 Chevy.

“It’s exciting – I’m even more excited that it might be a wet weekend,” the 20-year-old told RACER. “We’re trying to keep everything as positive as we can and trying to find more sponsors, step by step. I want to thank Trevor Carlin and ‘Chilly’ Chilton and Gallagher for their faith in me, and making it possible to keep racing this weekend while the search keeps going for more sponsors.”

O’Ward, who signed on as a member of Red Bull’s Junior Driver development program last month, visited the Red Bull Racing team during Formula 1’s recent stop in Canada. Efforts to secure a Super License – needed to participate in F1 – continue in the background while the native of Monterrey, Mexico, looks to extend his NTT IndyCar Series season as far as possible with Carlin.

“We’re going to Road America, and then we’ll have a couple of weeks to see what we can hopefully come up with to do Toronto,” he added. “That’s only as far as we can look at the moment.”

INSIGHT: Newgarden, 2 crew in perfect sync

On the days where Josef Newgarden has lacked front-running pace, his Team Penske pit crew, engineers, and strategists have lifted the NTT IndyCar Series points leader to impressive heights.

A three-time race winner from nine rounds in 2019, Newgarden’s five podium visits have, at times, had more to do with the No. 2 Chevy’s supporting cast than the young star working the steering wheel and pedals.

Motivated by a team-first approach, the 2017 IndyCar Series champion hails his race strategist, Penske president Tim Cindric; his race engineer Gavin Ward; crew chief Travis Law; and everyone attached to the effort that has the Tennessee native positioned to vie for his second IndyCar title.

“These guys are incredible. They really are,” he said. “Tim is the man. In my opinion, he’s one of the best, if not the best, strategists on pit lane; and we have the entire crew to support that, whether it’s the engineers that are pitching in and helping create those decisions or the team executing on pit lane — everything that we’re doing, we’re really in lockstep.”

Newgarden’s win Saturday night’s DXC 600 at Texas Motor Speedway was another strategy-fueled effort where the No. 2 Chevy employed an alternate approach to pit stop timing that allowed the 28-year-old to pounce late in the 248-lap event.

“Honestly, we game-out everything before the race, as much as we can,” he explained. “You have to adjust. There’s always changes. You can’t be locked into one thing or another. But we try and look at everything that could possibly happen, and then we have some scenarios put in place. The really cool thing is, when we have all our strategy meetings, for the most part, what we talk about generally comes to fruition. It’s crazy.

“I don’t know how this always happens, but we will talk through some different scenarios and most of the time one of the scenarios we talk about ends up happening. So we end up following the procedure that we laid out beforehand and it just ends up working out.

“The preparation is incredible and the guys executing and their ability to adjust on the fly when they need to and they see something happen such as a caution or whatever it is — they’re just so good at adjusting and making the right call. This year they’ve just nailed it.

“I hope that we don’t change,” Newgarden continued. “I hope they continue to have their mojo because they have been on it and I’ve just been trying to do my part as well to support that. So far it has been clicking fantastically this year.”

Creeping into the conversation after Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Scott Dixon led the majority of the Texas race, Newgarden takes much delight in playing the role of spoiler.

“Well, first off, what I love is, I think we continue to surprise people in races, which is great,” he admitted. “That actually puts a smile on my face because we go about our work very well, but we’re a little bit stealthy by doing it. I can tell you this, though: If you want to know how, it’s all out there in detail. If you go look at the analytics, it is there to be seen and you will understand easily why we were able to do what we did.

“It starts with having a fast car — you’ve got to be quick at the right points in that race. What we did strategy-wise, and where we positioned ourselves from a fuel standpoint on our second-to-last pit stop, enabled us to be in a position when everyone pitted to run quick laps; to have the best in-lap; to have the best pit stop; and then to leapfrog to the front and just capitalize on that attack mode.

“We were willing to attack when everyone was on defense, trying to make enough fuel.”

Once the No. 2 Chevy was out front, Newgarden wasn’t entirely sure he’d be able to stay there. The misfortune of another contender and a lack of grip in the second lane would eventually tip the win in his favor.

“With Rossi on the restart, it really started with Scott Dixon,” he said. “And I was very nervous about that. Normally, when the weather cools off and the cars become draggier, that’s when it’s very difficult to hold people back — especially on a restart — and I was really nervous with both Dixon and Rossi, once we got going, if I was going to be able to hold them going into Turn 1. Fortunately, we held just enough to where it didn’t become a problem.

“But, Alex was so good that night and so was Dixon,” Newgarden reflected. “If Dixon hadn’t got caught up in the incident with Colton , then I think it would have been a battle with him. And Colton and Rossi — I mean, it just would have been hard to hold anybody off. But our car out front was where it needed to be. In traffic, we suffered a little bit more than others, but out front, our car was very good. And as long as no one cleared me then I thought we were going to be just fine.”

 

The Week In IndyCar, June 11, with Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe

It’s fun episode of The Week In IndyCar following the Texas event won by our opening guest, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, and closes with the Mayor of Hinchtown, James Hinchcliffe.

Both offer their thoughts on the controversial Montreal Formula 1 penalty that ensnared Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton; Newgarden offers insights on the strategy and handling characteristics that led to his most recent victory, tells the story behind his role in the bizarre bondage-themed ‘Milk Veins’ 2014 Indy 500 video, and does his best to reveal the origin story of The Chalice of Excellence. Newgarden also, at the request of a listener, talks smack about championship rival Alexander Rossi.

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Hinchcliffe lays the groundwork for the NBA Finals bet between himself and The Week In IndyCar host Marshall Pruett, explores the rotten luck he’s experienced this year, compares the stresses of Indy 500 Bump Day 2018 and 2019, and bids farewell by revealing his biggest on-track pet peeve.

The show closes with Pruett answering listener questions submitted via social media.

Segments:

Josef Newgarden (starts at 14m00s)
James Hinchcliffe (1h11m44s)
MP Q&A (1h51m50s)

Former IndyCar star Conway can relate to Chilton’s bold choice

Former IndyCar star Mike Conway can sympathize with Carlin Racing’s Max Chilton after his countryman made the bold choice to stop racing on ovals.

Chilton enacted the “Mike Conway Plan,” named for the Briton who spent four full-time seasons racing Indy cars for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Andretti Autosport, and A.J. Foyt Racing (photo above) from 2009-2012, but elected to step out of the cockpit days before the 2012 season finale on the Fontana superspeedway.

Having endured a frightening crash at the Indianapolis 500 in 2010 that broke bones and brought an immediate end to his season, Conway would return in ’11 and contest 10 more oval races before vacating his Foyt seat at the ’12 finale.

The move, as he shares, is one that he holds to firmly years later with no regrets.

“I saw Max’s story online, and I can totally understand it,” Conway told RACER. “He didn’t go into detail, but he just doesn’t want to do it. I was there and got to that point myself. I didn’t care what anybody else said, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Now a pillar of the Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 sports car team, Conway can look back at his oval decision as a pivotal moment that benefitted his career.

“It opened up my eyes and doors to sports car racing, and it’s been the best fun and best racing I’ve had since,” he said. “It didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth when I left. At the time, I wasn’t really enjoying the racing anymore. Racing from eight years old, racing’s your life, and something you love, and when you’re not loving it anymore…

“I don’t know if it’s the same for Max, but I wasn’t enjoying my racing, and the ovals were the reason for that. It was a case of stop doing that, and continue doing what I did enjoy, which was the road and street course stuff and sports cars after that. It was the right call for me, and I don’t care what anybody thought about it, really.”

Conway’s supreme road racing talents were in high demand after 2012: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, and Ed Carpenter Racing all procured his services through 2014 which, thanks to leaving ovals behind, led to Conway’s biggest stretch of success in IndyCar.

With one win for Andretti in 2011, Conway captured three victories — Detroit, Long Beach, and Toronto — once he unburdened himself from the ovals. He hopes Chilton will feel the same sense of relief and rejuvenation when he returns to Carlin for IndyCar’s visit to Road America later this month.

“This really is about enjoying racing. The moment it wasn’t enjoyable, I knew I had to make a decision to fix it. I was in tears telling my father, but afterwards, with a clear head, going into races you enjoy, it’s purely about driving,” he said.

“You aren’t thinking about the bad weekend you had on an oval and then another one coming up. That kind of thinking wasn’t good for me and didn’t get the best out of me.

“ totally changed my outlook for the good, and you hope Max gets the same thing out of it that I did.”

Sato’s resurgence fueling RLL’s 1-2 punch

Takuma Sato is enjoying an epic late-career resurgence entering Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. Holding fifth place in the championship, the 42-year-old Japanese driver has visited the podium three times in the eight races held so far, including a win at Barber Motorsports Park (photo above) and a third at the Indianapolis 500.

At an age where fiery ambition can wane, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing pilot is surging, leading RLL in the standings as ninth-place teammate Graham Rahal looks to join him at the sharp end of the NTT IndyCar Series field.

In forming the 1-2 punch that team owners Bobby Rahal, David Letterman, and Mike Lanigan have wanted for many years, Sato says he’s happy to be the ‘1’ at the moment, but isn’t letting it cloud his mind.

“As teammates, we are completely working together. But at the same time, is the nearest rival, isn’t he?” Sato notes.

With Rahal as his measuring stick, Sato is thriving alongside the American star who he knows, on any given weekend, could lead the team to victory.

“It’s not beaten, but working together is such a pleasure because is so honest,” he said. “And the competition level in the team is obviously high, so he pushes me and I push him. Unfortunately, he had too many unfortunate situations .

“So perhaps, on a piece of the paper, maybe not the result he wanted; but he showed obviously the great speed. I’ve had better season so far but we’ll see how he’s looking up for the rest of the season.

“My goal is obviously working together and building the next level, lifting the next level for the team. And that’s exactly what Graham wants, too.”

Regarded as the nicest driver in the paddock, Sato had a laugh while describing how harmony with Rahal is the goal, but there are limits to being a teammate’s No. 1 fan.

“For the personal level, of course he wants to beat me and of course he wants to be winning in the races, and so do I,” he continued. “So, it is healthy competition happening in a team, and at the moment, there is nothing dragging down for both of us. So, it’s working pretty good so far.

“Obviously, we don’t know the future, right? If he discontinues this work, Graham might piss me off. Maybe. I don’t know, I can’t tell (laughs). But for now, the whole team, for me, it’s working certainly better than last year. Obviously not the best, because we’re not winning every single weekend. But I think it’s just working better.”

INSIGHT: How Carlin is navigating some choppy seas

Trevor Carlin has been navigating the depths of inner resolve since May 19.

With two of his three NTT IndyCar Series entries failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 race, the Briton has recently been thrust into adversity as his sophomore IndyCar team searches for the moorings to stabilize the outfit. Those efforts aren’t proving to be swift or easy.

Known as one of the sport’s biggest characters, Carlin’s been on a mission to quell any concerns regarding the team’s future. With a hand-picked group of talented crew members to support, the business side of the operation is where he and co-owner Grahame Chilton are focusing their energy as the 2019 season reaches its halfway point.

Coming off a promising IndyCar debut in 2018 with two full-time entries for Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball, Carlin Racing’s second season has been fraught with frequent change. Heavily rumored during the offseason to be considering a part-time schedule that cleaved the five oval races from his calendar, Chilton confirmed the move on Tuesday, opting to concentrate on the remaining road and street courses. Conor Daly will pilot Chilton’s No. 59 Chevy this weekend on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval; drivers for the Iowa, Pocono, and Gateway ovals have yet to be identified.

Kimball, whose first eight years in IndyCar were fully funded by the same sponsor, entered 2019 with a significant budget reduction, leaving Carlin with a vacancy to fill at approximately 10 of the 17 races. Reigning Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward, whose deal with Harding Steinbrenner Racing fell through shortly before the season-opener, found a perfect opportunity to rebound at Carlin, where he was signed to compete in the majority of the races where Kimball was sidelined.

Having now depleted his small budget, O’Ward competed last weekend at Detroit through the support of Chilton’s sponsor, Gallagher, an insurance company the elder Chilton led through 2018. Without an infusion of cash, or the continued generosity of Gallagher, the young Mexican phenom’s days as an IndyCar driver could be over.

Carrying the weight of multiple problems to solve, Carlin opened the conversation with Max Chilton’s change of direction, and how the life-altering oval crash at Pocono suffered by Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens served as a pivotal moment for the 28-year-old U.K. native.

“To be honest, the Max scenario, we’ve been conscious of it happening for some time,” he told RACER. “Max, he’s a good kid, and Robert Wickens is a great friend of his, and whatever anybody says, Pocono shook an awful lot of people up. And only the real diehard guys would say it didn’t shake them up, because I saw everyone’s faces at the moment, because I was standing there when it happened.

“So Max is brave enough to put his hand up and say that certain circumstances where the risk is massive, the speeds are super-high and certain bits of certain tracks aren’t necessarily as safe as we want them to be. And is it worth the risk? I said to him, mate, if you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it, there’s no need. You’re a young man with a whole life ahead of you. You don’t need to put yourself at risk, and you should never drive a superspeedway race if you’re not sure.

“You need to be 100 percent confident and focused, and driving forward, never, never be ready to lift off and back out of it, because that’s when the accidents happen.”

Attempting to qualify for his fourth Indy 500, Chilton was one of three drivers, including teammate O’Ward, who were bumped from the field of 33 during time trials. Having led 50 laps of the 200-lap race in 2017 at Chip Ganassi Racing on his way to finishing fourth, Chilton’s aptitude on ovals was never in question.

Since coming to the U.S. in 2015 after a lifetime spent in European road racing, Chilton was a quick study in the American oval artform, earning a win at Iowa with Carlin in Indy Lights. Upon his graduation to IndyCar in 2016, three of his four best results have been produced on ovals. Carlin takes umbrage with those who paint Chilton as less brave than others for calling time on oval racing.

“He’s had excellent support, and it took him a while to come to a conclusion,” Carlin continued. “And as it happened, there was a few big wrecks in Indy, but nothing major, and he would have done the race if he had qualified, and I’m sure he would have done a good job. I think he looked slow and hard at it, because he’s not fighting for the championship. He loves doing the road courses, and the street courses, and he loves driving an IndyCar, but he doesn’t see the point in putting himself through the danger.

“So I respect his decision, I think he’s very brave to make it, considering all the trolls are out there and love to dig at certain people in the sport, and I think Max has just done and said what a lot of people are thinking, actually. He’s got the choice, and he’s taking it.”

Carlin says Chilton’s mid-season decision to step away for the ovals will not impact the team’s budget with the No. 59 Chevy. But it leaves the second car shared between Kimball and O’Ward as the ongoing problem to solve.

“Max’s plan doesn’t change anything; the budget’s still secure for this year,” he added. “Charlie’s car was always going to be an issue financially, and at the end of the day, it’s my job to fill the shortfall, and I’m working at it. We’ve had a deal with Pato that’s filled some of the voids. Hopefully we can keep that going. He’s at risk financially, I have to say. It’s not fantastic, but it’s also not disastrous.

“We run the team carefully financially, and we know where we’re placed – we’re not a deep pocket, Penske, Ganassi, Andretti-type team. We’ve always got to be careful. That’s why we don’t have spare cars and all that stuff. We’ve only got one crew of blokes and they’re all at the circuit, there’s no-one back at base. And when we’re racing, everyone’s at the track. Everybody.

“So it’s my job to find the funding and the drivers to help us move forward, and that’s what we’ll keep doing. And I see no reason why we won’t have two cars on the grid every race this year. It keeps us in the game, Leader Circle-wise, for 2020.”

As most teams are concentrating on finding the shortest path to Victory Lane, Carlin, along with a few other IndyCar teams, is trudging through the difficulties of growing a fickle business that’s based on corporate backing and private funding brought by drivers.

IndyCar’s Leader Circle program, which commits just over $1 million to each entry, provided it partakes in every race, is a motivating factor for Carlin to keep both cars on the grid amid rising and plunging fortunes. The desire to run Chilton, Kimball, O’Ward, Daly, and whomever else is needed to trigger Leader Circle contracts for next season speaks to Carlin’s greater ambitions; despite the current dramas, his will to move past the issues and continue racing in IndyCar is resolute.

Looking ahead, it’s hard to predict who will be driving Carlin’s cars at every round in 2019, much less 2020 and beyond. With teams in countless open-wheel categories throughout the world, some of Carlin Racing’s rising talent could make its way to IndyCar, and with an impressive list of alumni – many whom race in Formula 1 – there’s apparently no shortage of offers to step into one of the twin-turbo V6 Chevy-powered machines.

“I get a number of the big high-profile ex-Carlin drivers always asking me about a test and jumping in the seat,” said Carlin, who’s run Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, and both McLaren drivers, Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris, among others, in junior series.

“Of course, these guys are now paid drivers and they want me to put them in for free and pick them up as paid drivers… And, unfortunately, I’m not quite in that situation to be able to offer that.”

O’Ward, in particular, has demonstrated the team’s potential by out-qualifying many of IndyCar’s title- and Indy 500-winning veterans. Kimball, whose oval prowess is well known, has shown Carlin Racing’s skills in IndyCar’s most unique discipline. There’s plenty of promise to draw from, which should allow Carlin to get the program back on the positive course it was charting prior to Indianapolis.

“We must help ourselves in all areas, primarily with budget,” he said. “There’s a list as long as my arm of drivers that want to come and do it, and they message me and say, ‘Hey Trev, you know, you need somebody, give us a shout.’ These are all good, high-profile drivers who want to come and race IndyCar. So, as I said, it’s my responsibility to find the money, so I can put them in the car. And that’s the approach we are taking.”