If Carlin Racing can expand its program to two full-time cars, team veteran Max Chilton would welcome staying on for a fifth season. And if the Florida-based team that hails from England is unable to secure a quality second entry to pair with Chilton’s No. 59 Chevy, the Briton hopes to find another home within the NTT IndyCar Series paddock that will offer better odds of earning competitive results.
As the only team left in IndyCar campaigning a single entry, the Carlin team has faced an uphill battle this year, and with a tight budget and lack of a teammate to expedite the program’s chassis development each weekend, the scrappy outfit led by Trevor and Stephanie Carlin has felt the limitations with their finishing record at most rounds. Chilton’s run to 10th at Road America and Conor Daly’s 11th-place on Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway are the two highlights from a season where every other finish has been 18th or lower.
There’s no question as to whether the Carlin team has been punching above its weight, but at 30 years old, Chilton finds himself in a place where waiting for the tide to turn holds limited appeal.
“I’m definitely looking at options in IndyCar because we need to make sure the Carlin team runs as a two-car team,” he told RACER. “So, the options at the moment are we’re trying to find someone else to team up with because this is our fourth year now. We need a teammate. Scott [Dixon] and Dario [Franchitti], who are very close, have said it’s the only way, especially the last two years when we’ve had these condensed race weekends.
“You know, Nashville for example, we get one practice and then you’re into qualifying, so I’ve got no teammates to rely on for us to go in different directions on the setups. So we are maybe, at the end of the race on a Sunday, close to where the other teams started on their setups. I know we’re doing a good job, but the last two years has been brutal.”
For their sake, the Carlins have echoed the same message of wanting and needing to be a two-car team for quite some time. And with Chilton’s father Grahame serving as a longstanding partner and backer of Carlin’s world-wide racing endeavors, there was a natural fit for Chilton to move from Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of 2017 to help Carlin launch its IndyCar program.
Despite Carlin’s two-car desire, Chilton is known to have an interest in piloting Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s third entry alongside Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey in 2022. Although he wouldn’t be drawn on which teams he’s spoken with, Chilton made it clear that being excited over earning a 10th-place finish is not where he wants to be in the future.
“I definitely would love to stay with the team, obviously, as they’re part of the family,” he added. “But I need to call teams if that doesn’t happen. And if it doesn’t happen, then I need to look at other options. Not going to say much more than that. I love Le Mans racing as well. That’s looking like a very strong category now with all these new classes. So there are other options available. But as I said, I would rather it be a two-car Carlin team, because then we’ll have more income into the team and we can show what we can actually do. Because at the moment, I think there’s probably teams beating us who, realistically, we’re doing a better job than, but they’ve just got better resources.”
Chilton’s been active in seeking the advisement from a sports psychologist while searching for ways to improve his craft, but with the financial chasm separating Carlin from its rivals, some of the basic expenditures that create speed have been omitted out of necessity. It’s why, in short, Chilton would prefer to stay with Carlin if a new and properly budgeted teammate can be found.
“I feel fitter than I have been for quite a while, but I’m not getting rewarded with anything, so that’s why the top 10 we got genuinely felt like a podium,” he said. “I was over the moon with that because we haven’t got Gallagher like we used to. We were not developing the car. So you know, we haven’t been on a shaker rig since the start of the year, compared to teams of Ganassi or Andretti or Penske who are probably on three or four days a month. And they’re on the simulators, and they’ve got a lot of money going on them for work.
“We are literally just taking the car to the racetrack and doing the best job we can. And I think we do an outstanding job of what we’ve got, but things can’t continue as they are so at the moment. So our focus and my focus is to get the end of the year done, because I’m super excited by the last three rounds. I love those tracks. I love the west coast of America, Laguna Seca, and we were quickest there at one of the preseason tests. So, that’s my focus at the moment, and then we’ll sort whatever’s to come afterwards.”