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.

Rinus VeeKay to drive for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2020

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Ed Carpenter Racing has signed 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay to drive the full 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, the team announced Wednesday.

VeeKay will drive the No. 21 Chevrolet previously occupied by Spencer Pigot.

“I’m so happy!” the 19-year-old driver from the Netherlands said in a press release. “It’s a dream come true and something we have worked extremely hard for over the last couple of years. To step up from USF2000 to the NTT IndyCar Series in three years is really special.”

In his maiden Indy Lights season this year, VeeKay collected six race victories and seven pole potions. VeeKay previously won the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 championship, and finished second in the 2017 USF2000 standings.

VeeKay’s success in the ladder series caught the attention of Carpenter, who gave VeeKay the opportunity to first test for the team at Portland International Raceway in August.

“I have been following Rinus’s path through the Road to Indy, especially the past two years,” Carpenter said. “It was clear to me that he deserves to be in an Indy car. After his first day in a car at Portland this past season, that feeling became even more apparent. His pace, feedback and demeanor inside the car was very impressive for such a young driver.”

As a driver, Carpenter will be VeeKay’s teammate during the five oval races in 2020, once again returning to the team’s No. 20 entry. An announcement on which driver will pilot the No. 20 on the road and street circuits will be made at a later time.

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