Carlin’s Indy Lights title marks its first major American achievement

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MONTEREY, Calif. – With Carlin having secured the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship on Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it marks Trevor Carlin’s team’s first major American racing accomplishment – perhaps the first of many to come.

To get the “elephant in the room” out of the way first, accusations immediately flew in the wake of Ed Jones’ final lap pass of Felix Serralles – the single pass which was enough to get Jones clear of Santiago Urrutia on points – that this was a team orders edict.

Serralles pulled over on his own accord to allow Jones through, as there was no call from the team to say Jones needed to be let through.

The “how” the title was decided, however, should not overshadow the season-long accomplishments achieved by Carlin in Indy Lights, in just its second season in North America.

Having originally set up shop in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. when they arrived here last year, Carlin moved its U.S. headquarters to Del Ray Beach, Florida over the offseason, a move made to attract and keep more of its crew longer-term. That’s about an hour and a half north of Miami.

“I knew that if I wanted to keep my key personnel, I’d have to find them somewhere a little bit more conducive to a lifestyle outside of racing,” Carlin told NBC Sports this weekend.

“The winters are pretty tough in Poughkeepsie… the only time my guys are at home is in the winter. In the summer they’re traveling around the States and racing, so they have to go wherever they are. What I thought is go somewhere warm.

“California is too far, it’s not logistically sensible. But Florida, and the connection with Andy (de Francesco), he said ‘maybe help me find a shop.’ As it happens we found our own shop and then the Benik (USF2000) thing came along. It was perfect.”

Jones has primarily set up shop in Miami when he’s been in the U.S. The 21-year-old is oft-known as the “Dubai-based Brit” but he’s found a home both in Miami and with Carlin after two years now Stateside.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“I love it here. Miami suits me well. It’s home for me now,” Jones told NBC Sports after winning the title on Sunday.

“This place feels nice. I like America. People are so friendly and welcoming. It’s a place I see myself for a long time.

“I’m one of those guys where I find it hard to feel emotion on things in the moment. It’ll take time to sink in. Coming over here with Trevor was a big change.

“For it to pay off, the job the team have done is incredible. You have to realize what a job they’ve done, to have competed with teams that have been for so many years. When they make it to IndyCar, they’ll be one of the top teams.”

Indeed, that last line is the important one. Carlin came into Indy Lights at the same time as the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda did in 2015, but still with a lesser understanding of America and the series compared to past title-winning teams Juncos Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, Belardi Auto Racing and Andretti Autosport.

What they’ve done in the two years since has been remarkable, garnering the high level personnel they have and putting themselves in immediate title contention. Jones noted Carlin engineer Geoff Fickling has been a huge help for his growth and development.

“He’s brought me on massively as a driver,” Jones said. “Our personalities match very well in a working way. Without him, there’s no way we would have been able to do this. The Carlin team would have suffered without having him here.”

Carlin lost the title last year and Jones admitted he made a few mistakes this year that made the title closer than it probably could have been.

Jones started quite strong with two wins, three runner-up finishes and and two fourth-places in a row through Road America race one.

Jones, Negrao and Stoneman. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Jones, Negrao and Stoneman. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

But an overly aggressive move on then-title rival Dean Stoneman in Road America race two, when Jones admitted to and did run Stoneman off the road up the hill at Turn 6, was a possible turning point that brought Stoneman, Urrutia, and then the lesser likely trio of Serralles, Zach Veach and Kyle Kaiser back into title contention.

“At the time it felt like the right thing. But obviously now it wasn’t the right thing. I can’t regret what I did. That’s a way of life,” Jones admitted.

From there, Jones fell into a minor funk results-wise. Just one podium occurred in that six-race stretch from Road America race two through Mid-Ohio race two, and an accident in the Mid-Ohio second race threatened to derail his title hopes altogether. Jones trailed Urrutia by 24 points leaving Mid-Ohio, following Urrutia’s dominant weekend sweep.

It was at Watkins Glen, meanwhile, where the seeds of the championship were replanted.

Jones and Carlin, smartly, focused on tire conservation and longer runs. Urrutia and Schmidt gambled on only doing short runs in practice in order to save tires for the race, but Urrutia hadn’t done a run much longer than a handful of laps going into the 25-lap race.

Urrutia spun in qualifying but resumed ahead of Jones on track. Urrutia won the pole but lost his fastest time as a result of the interference; nonetheless, his second fastest lap was enough to secure the top spot.

But in the race, the potential strong result came unglued. Jones finished second while a punctured left front tire resigned Urrutia to 12th and last, and the points pendulum swung from Urrutia being 24 up to just 1 up heading to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend.

Jones and Carlin were calm and collected all weekend, while the usually unflappable Uruguayan did not appear himself this weekend. With the Watkins Glen result still lingering and then the distraction of having his first IndyCar test on Thursday, Urrutia’s mind may have been elsewhere. But Jones and Carlin could afford to focus solely on Mazda Raceway -and it paid off.

The second year was always going to be more comfortable for both of them as a collective unit, knowing America and knowing the series the second time around.

Said Jones, “This year I’ve been a lot more comfortable in the car and the team. Everything is more complete as a team. We probably should have … not won it a lot earlier… but it never should have got this close. We had so much speed. It’s kind of embarrassing to not win it earlier, and that’s due to my mistakes.”

Added Carlin, “It’s much more relaxed and much more organized. The team has always been organized, Colin (Hale, team manager) does a fantastic job. This year it’s just a case of improving step by step. We feel that we’re part of the establishment now, and you know, just want to keep doing that and expand into other projects as time allows.

“The biggest thing is that when you’re in the paddock and you’re mixing with people, everyone is far more friendly and amenable and do things to encourage racing to go ahead. It’s a far friendlier environment.

“But when they’re on-track, the racing is as fierce as in Europe. You’e seen Lights this year, IndyCar is always incredibly tough. People still behave correctly over here and enjoy the sport and then let the drivers do the fighting. The teams and mechanics and engineers shouldn’t be fighting, they should be doing their job and enjoying their job.

“It is a sport at the end of the day, and we do it because we love it. We don’t want to get bogged down in politics and bureaucracy.”

The fact they love it in America, as well as Europe where Carlin has built a junior formula empire, is only a good sign for the team and health of North American open-wheel racing going forward.

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E

Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.