Carlin confirms Indy Lights entry, which provides series a huge shot in the arm

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Trevor Carlin’s powerhouse organization will add a U.S. program in 2015, with a new entry into the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship.

Racing director Carlin noted this will be the realization of the team’s U.S. long-term ambitions.

“We’re extremely excited to be taking the Carlin team to the U.S. and embarking on this new challenge into the Indy Lights series,” he said in a release. “We’ve had one eye on the U.S. for some time now and the time is right to widen our focus. We’re seeing more and more drivers look across the Atlantic from categories such as Formula 3 and GP2 Series to careers in Indy Lights and IndyCar and it makes sense as a European team to offer that route to our customers.

“While we remain completely focused on our race programs in Europe, it is also important to take on new challenges and projects that maintain our momentum as a company of people,” he added. “By offering new opportunities we are able to offer strong team members new goals and challenges internally and retain them within Carlin. By no means do we underestimate the challenge ahead but we believe we have a great team of people to help us be competitive in Indy Lights. We see this as an important new chapter for Carlin and the entire team are excited for the future.”

The team’s operations will be based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and feature both U.K. and U.S. personnel.

A MAJOR GET FOR INDYCAR/INDY LIGHTS

To put Carlin’s place in the European junior formula ladder into proper American stick-and-ball perspective, a comparable example would be Alabama football. Nick Saban’s team contends for national championships every year, and has produced a gluttony of current National Football League stars.

Or to put Carlin’s place in perspective on the American racing scale, it’s the competitive European equivalent of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Indy Lights program – which has won a half dozen championships and promoted more than that number of drivers into IndyCar over the last decade.

The Farnham, Surrey-based team has previously worked with drivers such as Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Riccardo and Nico Rosberg, as well as 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Will Power, Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Takuma Sato, Mikhail Aleshin, Graham Rahal and Carlos Huertas in the junior stages of their careers.

That level of talent already has come through Carlin’s doors. The driver or drivers who get the next opportunity will be welcomed into a world-class, championship-winning operation and vault to instant title contender status.

More notable even than the talent who have already driven for Carlin is the fact Carlin himself sees the value in North American racing, and the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. Because if there’s one thing that IndyCar and Indy Lights racing has lacked in the last decade or so, it’s new blood in terms of teams.

There has not been a new full-season IndyCar team since Ed Carpenter launched his eponymous Ed Carpenter Racing in 2012. The previous two new teams before that were two other drivers branching out into team ownership, in Bryan Herta (2010) and Sarah Fisher (2008). Because it makes sense to have economies of scale, Fisher’s and Carpenter’s teams have now merged.

The lack of new blood in Indy Lights has been even greater. Until this new year with the new Dallara IL15 chassis, Schmidt Peterson, Andretti Autosport, Belardi Auto Racing and Team Moore Racing were the only four teams even keeping the series afloat on a full-time basis. New teams? About as rare as rain in a desert.

That Carlin sees the European junior open-wheel formula in transition, and with the American ladder so much more clearly defined – and, on the whole, cheaper – is nothing but a positive for IndyCar, Indy Lights and the Mazda Road to Indy on the whole.

This is one of the biggest pieces of news for IndyCar this offseason, and should be treated as such. Meanwhile Carlin’s team deserves massive thanks, and a warm welcome to these shores.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1. The WTR car was forced to retire and finished ninth overall (sixth in DPi).

“I’m simply devastated with the ending,” Albuquerque said in a release. “I really think we were doing a perfect race and unfortunately the last pit stop wasn’t great for our side. Obviously, when you start on pole and up front, you always have a little bit of an advantage. Traffic always benefits the guy leading, and it got me big time there. Passing a GT car and I don’t think he saw me and the level of risk was high. We touched and my car was damaged and it was over for us. It was a bit inglorious to finish like that.”

Said teammate Ricky Taylor, who started third but had to pit on the second lap after a spin in qualifying damaged his tires: “I couldn’t be more proud to be teammates with Filipe. He gives everything and we wouldn’t be in this position in the championship without him. We take risks and I don’t even think what took us out was even a risk. He was fighting for the win and I had no doubt that he was going to pass the 60 car if he had the chance.”

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

Said Jarvis in a release: “Full credit to the entire team and for Meyer Shank to come away with victory and the championship, that’s something really special. We won the two that counted most and the championship. This race definitely was not easy and there were moments where I thought this could end badly, but the car really came alive at night. Tom did an amazing job at the end of the race there.”

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Congratulations to Mike Shank for winning the drivers’ and teams’ championships,” team owner Wayne Taylor said in a release. “What can I say. We thought we had it, but didn’t. Everybody gave it their all.”

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”