After years of wondering what was needed for IndyCar to attract new team owners, four new entrants are now converging upon St. Petersburg to take part in the first race of the year.
Trevor Carlin’s team is brand-new with two cars for Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball; Mike Harding put together a short program for Gabby Chaves in 2017 and heads into the new season as a full-time entrant; Ricardo Juncos ran the Indy 500 and is back for eight races split between Indy Lights champ Kyle Kaiser and newcomer Rene Binder, and Mike Shank, who ran Jack Harvey at the Speedway, bought a new car to field the Brit at six rounds.
After sitting down with the four to explore the reasons behind moving up to IndyCar, the challenges, the support many have received from the series’ leadership team, and some of the surprises, their views – filtered through fresh perspectives – made for an insightful conversation.
Here’s a condensed version of what’s captured in the podcast at the bottom of the page:
On launching an IndyCar team
Harding: “Well, I grew up with the 500 and I love the 500, and I’ve been a part of it for 17 years. Had the largest Carb Day party out there. We’ve owned a family construction company since 1960; I hooked up with [team manager] Larry Curry somehow, and he came to work for me running my transportation division. The 100th [Indy 500] running was coming up. I could see Larry walking around depressed and stuff, so I said, ‘If you get the opportunity to get something going for the 500, take it. Take as much time off as you want. I’ll pay you. Don’t worry about it.’
“He did, and it wasn’t really with a quality team, so they had a bad experience and we’re sitting in my suite at the end of the race, and he starts crying – he’s an emotional guy – and started talking, and one thing led to another and here we are.”
Juncos: “My jump to IndyCar was because it was the proper time. I think with the new car, I really agree what IndyCar is doing. Everything happens for a reason, I think, and it’s not like I planned, ‘OK, this is perfect timing. Let’s do it’. A lot of things happened for me to do it at the right time, at the right moment. We won the Indy Light championship. That was the key. If we wouldn’t have won that championship, today we probably would be trying to do the 500 again and nothing else. Everything is happening, who knows why, and I just keep working, keep learning and enjoy the sport because I love racing so much.
“Today I [had] my first team owners’ meeting and to be sitting at that table with all these names, like I was following when I was young, it was amazing. It was something that I still am processing.”
On ramping up with more personnel and equipment for IndyCar
Carlin: “I’ve got a fantastic bunch of guys. Colin Hale leads up the IndyCar team. We’ve had a pretty long history of setting up new teams going into new championships: the World Series by Renault, GP3, GP2, Indy Lights. It’s a process we’ve done before. We always do it very economically. We don’t turn up with a full checkbook and just buy all new stuff. We’re very smart about how we do it, so I suppose it’s a process we’re used to.
“Obviously, this process is far more complicated because the car is far more expensive. You’ve got to deal with so many different suppliers. It’s far more sophisticated. And I’ve got a team of 26-27 guys, all of a sudden, to run two cars. It’s by far the biggest team we’ve ever had and ever run, so that’s a headache, but so far it’s going quite smoothly. The next battle is to try and get some performance.”
Shank: “The thing that I recognized right away, when we first started in sports cars, we run the sports car like we ran our Toyota [Atlantic] open-wheel car or the way they run [an] Indy car. So structurally, internally, we run our sports car program just like in IndyCar. What do I mean by that? I mean the set ups, the set downs, the way we communicate in engineering, the electronic side of things, everything is just like in IndyCar, so I typically hire guys that have come off of IndyCar anyways.
“A lot of guys get burned out on this schedule, and so they decide to take a break or they want to do spot labor, they want to fly in. I just try to pick the best group of those people that maybe needed a little break, and I can offer them kind of a little different view for a while. Eventually, we’ll be full-time in this, and we’ll have to deal with that when we do, but the idea was, is to get the most experienced guys that I didn’t feel like were recycled around the pits here, because everyone walks around with their [tool] box, so [I prefer to hire] stable guys that maybe needed a little bit of a change in their life. They didn’t want to be on the road 25 weekends.”
On searching for sponsorship
Harding: “Well, we’ve put together a really good marketing team. We have enough funding for one car for this year. But this sponsorship, I never dreamed it would be this hard [to find].”
Juncos: “I don’t have words to express, to be honest, how good they are with me, like Jay Frye, Mark Miles, everybody in IndyCar. I mean, they are amazing. I can see the support. Eventually it’s going to be… it’s never going to be easy, but it’s going to be easier, I think, for the future, maybe to targeting more interest and investment from companies. I have a good feeling after the 500. Nothing materialized now yet for me, but it’s difficult. We’re talking to over 30 companies today, and all of them [are] kind of interested. I don’t have not one dollar yet, but I have faith and I believe will happen soon, even if it’s in small portions, but I think we need to be patient working because I think, like I said before, this is the right time.”
On the costs and surprising expenditures
Shank: “Well, we were in the owners’ meeting this morning just listening, you know, a lot of experience in the room this morning, but what they don’t realize is for teams like us coming into this thing, we want to come in and we want to feel like we can contribute and be competitive. We don’t want to feel like we [have to] run 18th to 24th every freaking weekend. The way the rules are right now, it’s very difficult to come in. I mean, you can hire all the people in the world you want and have great people there, but there’s still something to be said about [experienced teams that have] run for seven years or eight years with this chassis.
“All their inerter programs, all their damper programs, all the stuff that does nothing for the show, zero value… you have to be a part of that. You have to buy into that at some level, so I spent a hundred grand right away [for one set of shocks] and that just scratches the surface. [A mortified Shank would later acknowledge spending $190,000 on two sets of IndyCar dampers to keep up with the competition]. That doesn’t include the shaker [rig] time and the development and the new bits we’ve got to build, and it’s just out of control.
“There’s all kinds of arguments. Everyone has a stance on this. The open areas that they’ve opened up, I understand that Dallara didn’t deliver a price that they liked and they wanted to be able to go after it. Well, when you buy a car, you buy a car for $389,000 I think it is or something like that, and then I’ve got a [separate] stack of invoices this tall from 15 different companies to build one racecar.”
Carlin: “I completely agree with Mike. When I’ve just bought two Formula 2 cars, and I’ve taken delivery of one, you get every piece of that car. You collect the engine on a different day. You get the engine with every piece, and on Wednesday all the teams will run one car as an official shakedown to make sure – to get all the bugs and everything out of it, and we’ve got every nut, bolt, washer from one supplier. Everything. You build the car, get it painted, make it look nice. Simple. All the same [for one price].
Shank: “The old guard here doesn’t want to hear about that. That’s fine. And they have the experience, so who are he and I to say that that’s the right thing to do?”
Carlin: “Well, they’re costing themselves money. They’re wasting money, and it’s the same with Formula 1 to a ridiculous level, and it’s not in their interests to change the rules to suit new people. They want to protect their vested interests, and that’s fair enough.”
Enjoy the full 30-minute discussion below: