Anyone that has followed Carlin Racing in Europe over the last decade, if not longer, knows its caliber of operation.
So even though this past weekend at St. Petersburg may have been its race debut in North America, as one of two new teams (8Star Motorsports) in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, its form was congruent with its results in Europe. Ed Jones swept both races from pole in the No. 11 car, and led every lap in the process.
Carlin has come to America and has immediately raised the game in the paddock in Indy Lights.
But in talking with racing director Trevor Carlin and the team’s lone full-season confirmed driver Jones, the mood was a reflective, thankful one as they were fully welcomed to America.
“It seems a lot more laid back and relaxed. People are very friendly,” Carlin told MotorSportsTalk prior to Sunday’s second race of the weekend.
“Bearing in mind this is our first weekend here, everyone is very welcoming. The people are enjoying being at a racetrack.”
The difference in mindset comes from the adaption to the North American atmosphere, where camaraderie is embraced and the paddock meant to be a showcase for the fans.
In Europe, the cutthroat nature of competition is manifested both on and off-track.
Jones, the Dubai-based Englishman, was more or less floored by the difference after advancing into Indy Lights from Formula 3 last year.
“It is very different to what I’m used to,” Jones told MotorSportsTalk. “In Europe everything is very closed off, almost by design.
“I raced Formula 3 last year, so DTM was the main series. The fans can’t get involved! They can’t see the cars, and everything is all shut down. Whereas in INDYCAR, it is a lot more fan friendly. You can see the cars close up.
“The environment here is that all the series here want the fans to get involved, and it’s a much more enjoyable experience. The drivers get to communicate with the people watching.
“In Europe, it’s a bit too serious. No one is very friendly. Racing here, everyone’s still focused on what they’re doing. But here they’re friendly and out there to have a good time, as well as working hard.”
Jones worked plenty hard over the course of the weekend, given his domination of a field that includes series returnees Jack Harvey and Matthew Brabham, and promising rookies such as Spencer Pigot and Scott Hargrove, among others.
He admitted a quick adaption to the Dallara IL15 chassis, powered by the turbocharged Mazda MZR-R engine.
“Since I’ve been racing it’s been normally aspirated engines,” Jones said. “But here, the electronic systems are so good, the power lag is so minimal it’s hard to notice. It’s a good car, and it’s been easy to get used to.”
Carlin himself praised his team’s first weekend performance, and even noted a bit of apprehension coming into the weekend given both Jones’ and Max Chilton’s pace in testing.
“We’ve worked very hard to get the team set up the last few months,” said Carlin, whose U.S. operations are based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “The boys have done an incredible job. To be as quick as we’ve been is fantastic.
“We were a bit apprehensive because testing had gone well, and we’d never raced here before, had never seen the circuit before and bit worried about it being bumpy. But as it happens, we’ve coped with it quite well and Ed and Max have done a brilliant job.”
Carlin confirmed that Chilton, who’s also slated for the full season in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Nissan, will be driving the team’s No. 14 car on a race-to-race basis, continuing at Long Beach.
Nissan’s pullout of The Prologue last weekend averted one of two schedule conflicts for Chilton; the other exists at Le Mans race weekend itself, when the 24-hour classic is June 13-14 and comes head-to-head with the Indy Lights doubleheader round in Toronto.
While Chilton had a mistake in race one and contact with Felix Serralles, he rebounded to fourth in race two.
Jones, meanwhile, described how much he liked the St. Petersburg street course in comparison to others such as Macau and Pau.
“It’s a good place by the water, that’s the most important thing,” he joked. “There’s some really difficult, technical parts of the course, like the midsection. But the fast, flowing bits like Turns 1-2-3, well that section is great to drive. All in all, it’s a great track.”
For the team in total, it was a great weekend and a sincerely successful debut in North America. The series resumes at Long Beach later this month, on April 19.