Charlie Kimball was just 20 years old when he began racing for Trevor Carlin in 2005 in British Formula 3.
Fast forward 13 years and the now 33-year-old Kimball has reunited once again with Carlin, who owns Carlin Racing, one of three new teams to enter the Verizon IndyCar Series for the 2018 season.
“It feels like coming home, honestly,” Kimball told NBC Sports on Wednesday. “Racing for Trevor back in 2005 was one of the greater experiences of my young racing career at that point.”
Kimball spent that season driving for Carlin Motorsport in British Formula 3, earning five wins and finishing second in the championship to teammate Alvaro Parente.
“Now, being able to come back and race with Trevor in their first foray into professional open-wheel racing with the IndyCar Series means a lot to me,” Kimball said. “It means a lot that Trevor has the faith in me, and that Max (teammate Max Chilton) and I have the opportunity to really build this team within IndyCar.
“The chance for them as a team to learn from us and be led by our experience is really, really cool.”
Kimball and Chilton were both released from Chip Ganassi Racing after last season when the team scaled back from four to only two cars for 2018 with veteran Scott Dixon remaining, joined by Ed Jones (who replaces Tony Kanaan, who moved to A.J. Foyt Racing after last season).
Kimball and Chilton are once again reunited with Carlin Racing, and that should pay dividends as opposed to two drivers who aren’t familiar with each other coming into a new season and new team situation.
“It means that in that collaboration, as we work with the engineers, mechanics and management to get Carlin up to speed as much as possible, we don’t have to learn each other,” Kimball said of Chilton. “We don’t have to learn what each other wants from the car, we don’t have to refigure that stuff out, which helps shorten an already very tall learning curve.
“So having that ability to have Max and I come over together and having worked together as teammates and knowing what worked the last couple years and things we wanted to improve on, we can push those items together.”
After spending seven seasons with Ganassi and serving as understudy of sorts to veterans Dixon and Kanaan, Kimball became the senior driver at Carlin, given that Chilton is now in just his third full IndyCar season.
“It definitely feels like a reboot a little bit,” Kimball said. “There’s a little different stress as a driver this year. I hope my experience is leading the team down the right path and leading them to better results and progress. It’s just a different experience I’ve had in my seven previous years in INDYCAR.”
While Carlin Racing will have to walk before it can run, so to speak, it could also be a dark horse if things start coming together soon.
“I would not have gone to Carlin if I didn’t think we could be successful together,” Kimball said. “It’s going to take time being successful in the INDYCAR series, especially this year with the new teams, the new car, the rookies.
“It’s a stacked field talent-wise, so it’s going to take a little while for us to find our feet, but I don’t think there’s any reason why eventually we can’t be running up-front and competing at each weekend.
“Now, I don’t know how long that’s going to take, because I don’t underestimate the task we face on the performance side. But the fact we went to St. Pete as a brand new team, didn’t have a single piece of an Indy car last October, and we had two cars that ran every lap, ran the whole race, guys did great stops for their first live IndyCar pit stops, I’m really proud of the effort they’ve put in over the winter to get to where they are now.”
Kimball and Chilton both struggled in Carlin Racing’s IndyCar debut two weeks ago at St. Petersburg. Kimball started 21st and finished 20th, while Chilton started 20th and finished 19th.
But they also saw signs of promise both on and off the racetrack.
“I think internally that we’ll continue to develop race by race, session by session,” Kimball said. “The more we can focus on real, meaningful progress on each session, the more the long-range results will take care of themselves.
“We can’t change the weather or change what the other teams are doing. We can only focus on doing as good and as complete a job as a race team as we’re capable of.
“And from there, I think there is every opportunity to be hitting expectations that we’ve set for ourselves or exceeding them.”