De Melo (13) and Alberico (22) during their rookie years in Indy Lights. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

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

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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.

Hamilton, Bottas clock fastest times as F1 testing starts

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty IPhoto by Mark Thompson/Getty Imagesmages
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MONTMELO, Spain — Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sent an ominous signal to their challengers after clocking the two fastest lap times on the first day of Formula One’s preseason testing.

Hamilton set the top time of Wednesday’s opening session’s of 1 minute, 16.976 seconds, after he took over from Bottas behind the wheel of the new Silver Arrow for the 2020 season. Bottas’ best effort was 0.337 seconds slower.

The Mercedes duo also completed the most laps of any team with 173.

Sergio Perez of Racing Point was the third fastest, followed by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

Hamilton enters the season as the clear favorite as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles and surpass the German’s mark of 91 career wins. Hamilton has six titles and 84 wins.

“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” Hamilton said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”

In last year’s preseason testing, the Mercedes cars were slower than the rival Ferraris. But they beat them come the first race of the year and never lost their advantage.

Hamilton and Bottas had nine one-two race finishes last season as they dominated the field to finish first and second in the overall points standings.

Wednesday’s eight hours of running went smoothly for all teams, with no accidents or breakdowns and good weather ideal for high speeds.

The only setback was for Sebatian Vettel, who couldn’t run as scheduled because of an illness.

Charles Leclerc took Vettel’s place and settled for the 11th best time of the 15 drivers who drove.

Leclerc, who finished fourth ahead of Vettel last season, said that his team had changed strategy.

“Last year in testing we were great but the first race was a little less great, and I think we have learned a few things on this,” he said. “This year we have started trying to focus more on ourselves and on trying to learn the car as much as possible during these first few days and then focus on performance later on.”

Verstappen finished third last season and is expected to again be biggest challenger to Mercedes’ dominance along with the two Ferraris.

Verstappen focused on accumulating 168 laps as Red Bull’s sole driver on the track. Alexander Albon will get his turn with the Red Bull on Thursday.

Williams’ George Russell was the first car to take the track, ensuring his team got off to a better start than during last year’s preseason when its car wasn’t ready to run until the third day of testing.

This year’s rules have not varied much ahead of the massive overhaul of regulations set to take effect in 2021 with the goal of shaking up the pecking order and closing the gap between the three traditional title challengers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and all the rest.

This season’s tweaks feature fewer tests days to compensate for the record-breaking 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam GP and the return of the Dutch GP. Preseason testing has been reduced from a total of eight days to six, and the mid-season test has been eliminated.

Cars will now sport shark fins on the engine cover with the number of the driver to help fans identify them better. Drivers have been given more control of the go sequence at the starting line, and those large screens that crews would wheel out to shield cars from the view of snoopy rivals during tests have been banned.

Alfa Romeo and Haas unveiled their cars early on Wednesday in the pitlane to complete the presentation of the new vehicles for this season.

Testing continues on Thursday and Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish GP, and again from Feb. 26-28.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.