Being a single-car team has not prevented Carlin Racing from flexing its muscles in an NTT IndyCar Series filled with organizations comprised of two, three, four, or five-car programs.
Despite lacking a second car to share and expedite the chassis tuning workload in practice, Carlin’s No. 59 Chevy shared by Max Chilton (road and street courses) and Conor Daly (ovals) has gotten off to a fast start so far in 2020. With Daly placing sixth in Texas, and Chilton running as high as fifth last weekend in Indianapolis (pictured above) before the mid-race caution turned his fortunes upside down, the series’ only one-car outfit is giving its bigger rivals a hard time in the early stages of the shortened season.
“I’ve done two days in IndyCar between the last race last year and the green for first race, which is mental; it was 286 days, in fact, but obviously, the mechanics were working hard throughout the winter to find gains,” Chilton told RACER. “While I was training and getting fit, they were doing some magical things with the damping, which has been marvelous.”
A mid-season move to Penske Racing’s customer shocks delivered a boost in speed in 2019, and with ample amount of time during the offseason — and again while racing went on hiatus before the start of the new season — more gains were found that have paid off for the No. 59 car.
“We knew all along, most of the time to get was in damping because realistically, that’s the most opened-up area you can change on an Indy car,” Chilton said. “While we were up in the ballpark with the overall setup, we were just lacking speed. And so we finally committed to a bigger damper program because we had a long winter.
“It seemed to work straight out of the gun in Austin for the group test. And then we put what we’ve done on the dampers since Austin on the (Chevy driver-in-the-loop) simulator a couple of weeks ago in Charlotte, and every time we went with them, it found three and a half to four tenths. And that’s the kind of jump we needed. We still need a couple more tenths. That would be ideal, but it’s amazing what those three and a half, four tenths have done to turn things around.”
Chilton and the Carlin team are back in business this weekend with the doubleheader at Road America, where he hopes to turn the potential shown on the Indy road course into a representative finish. Provided the trend continues, Carlin could attract more interest from funded drivers wanting to climb into its second entry and return the Florida-based team to two-car status.
For Chilton, the question of whether he’d welcome seeing the No. 31 Chevy in action alongside his No. 59 is answered by exploring the lines of team commerce versus individual focus.
“There’s two ways of answering this. As a driver, no. And as a team, it’s a bit of a 50/50 one,” he said. “Obviously, most race teams in the world are two cars, just because it’s what works best. Any more than that, I think sometimes it can spiral out of control, unless you’re very on the ball. And so, I don’t overly like big teams. Two, I think is obviously ideal, but I’ve had times in my career where I have been pretty much the only driver. And for me, it works quite well as long as the team is fully focused on my car, which obviously with a single car, it is. I think that seems to be working at the moment.
“Now, it would be nice to have another car out there commercially — especially if the car was quick, because we’d have two cars in the top 10 every weekend, and that was doing us favors. I think at the moment, for us to get the best results, a single-car team is best. Conor did a fantastic job in Texas. Our most important thing is making sure we get results now with one, and then we can get sponsors back on and we can maybe get it up to two cars again.”