Carlin, Juncos “more likely” for potential IndyCar programs in 2018

De Melo (13) and Alberico (22) during their rookie years in Indy Lights. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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MONTEREY, Calif. – The Verizon IndyCar Series is in need of new teams on its grid, and the two most likely newest teams to enter on a full-time basis, Carlin and Juncos Racing, are in agreement they’d rather build it the right way methodically for 2018 rather than attempt to rush into 2017.

While not impossible, it’s doubtful either two of the leading Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams will step up on a full-time basis next season, although neither ruled out any “toe in the water” effort ahead of any potential step up.

Trevor Carlin has plenty of drivers who’ve come through his team in Europe who are now in IndyCar and courtesy of his team’s impressive and first-class arrival into Indy Lights in 2015, it’d be nice to see the Carlin name join the IndyCar grid with the same level of anticipation.

Trevor Carlin with his team. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Trevor Carlin with his team. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Although the potential exists to run in 2017, a full-time Carlin bow seems likelier in 2018.

As Carlin explained, the planning and talking process takes a few years, and it may not be an immediate step up even though the rumors continue to percolate.

“We keep working on it,” Carlin told NBC Sports. “We’ve tried lots of different approaches, with investors, with sponsors, with a partnership with another team.

“So we’re looking at maybe six different options. If one of them came off, that would be the next couple of months, then we’ll do it next year. But if they don’t we’ll keep working on it on the firm belief that when the time is right, that things happen.

“It’s a bit like with Lights, I talked about it for quite a long time wanting to come to America. It was probably five years from the first time I mentioned it to us doing it. It’s just the chain of events, and it will be the same with IndyCar.”

Who could Carlin potentially have in IndyCar, if the team were to step up down the road?

“There’s quite a few [alumni],” he said. “They know us. I would imagine those guys [Aleshin, Sato, Kimball, among others] would probably be beyond our reach initially.

“There’s Ed and Felix, they’d be contenders for us. If we got a full sponsor or something, then why wouldn’t I look further afield to people like da Costa and Vergne and people like that? New faces to the championship. Obviously Aleshin did it with us.”

Carlin is targeting another pair of three-car efforts in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires in 2017, with three cars expected to continue in Indy Lights and three the likely number for the new Carlin Benik team in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

For Ricardo Juncos, who fields both a two-car Indy Lights program and three-car Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires program this year, the impending opening of its new shop in Speedway, Ind. – moving from Brownsburg – takes foremost precedence.

“Most likely, yes [to 2018],” Juncos told NBC Sports. “A big rule change is coming up for IndyCar [in 2018].

Ricardo Juncos. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Ricardo Juncos. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“Next year I don’t think technically, realistically we can do it. We’re moving to the new shop. We need to solidify the Indy Lights team. That’s too new. Yes, we won the championship last year and we’re still in it this year but we need to get better at many things, and we will.

“So next year we’ll focus on that, and the new shop will allow us to do things different and better. We need to optimize that first, and maybe ’18 will be better to do something.”

Juncos’ more immediate team targets are solidifying an expected two and possible three-car Indy Lights program for 2017, but he’s unsure at the moment whether his Pro Mazda team – which he’s operated since 2009 – will be back next year.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)