IndyCar: Charlie Kimball feels right back at home with Carlin Racing

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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.”

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Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.