Racing as a Profession, and Not a Hobby

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Since the end of last season, it has long been suspected that Max Chilton and/or Carlin would not return to the NTT IndyCar Series for 2022. Within a day or so of each other, we got confirmation of the plans for both parties for 2022 – and they do not include each other.

Carlin will provide technical assistance to Juncos Hollinger Racing, while Max Chilton will develop the Speirling EV race car for McMurtry Automotive – something he sounds extremely passionate about.

Trevor Carlin founded his UK-based motorsports team with business partner Martin Stone in 1996. They found immediate success in every junior formula they entered, including GP3, GP2 and Indy Lights. More than two-hundred drivers have driven Carlin race cars in various ladder series over the years. Just a few of those now-famous names include Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Takuma Sato, Carlos Sainz, Josef Newgarden, Robert Wickens, Ed Jones, Conor Daly, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris and George Russell.

Carlin joined Indy Lights in 2015, and finished second in the Team’s Championship. In 2016, Carlin driver Ed Jones won the Driver’s Championship, while Carlin won the Team’s Championship.

With a reputation of succeeding in every racing series they enter, expectations were high when they entered the NTT IndyCar Series in 2018. Growing pains were expected, but most thought it wouldn’t take long for a team such as Carlin to figure things out quickly. Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton both left Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2017 season to join the fledgling team that was partly owned by Chilton’s father, businessman Grahame Chilton.

Growing pains would’ve been one thing, but Carlin’s first IndyCar season was disappointing on all fronts. Charlie Kimball was a race winner with Ganassi, but he finished seventeenth in points during his first season at Carlin. With Robert Wickens missing the final three races of the 2018 season due to injury, only eighteen drivers competed in every race that season – and Wickens still finished eleventh in points.

Kimball’s seventeenth-place finish was the highest-ranked Carlin driver in 2018. He had four Top-Ten finishes with the highest finish being a fifth at Toronto. Even more disappointing was Max Chilton, a former Formula One driver. Chilton finished nineteenth, among eighteen drivers that competed in all seventeen races in the 2018 season. Chilton even finished thirty points behind rookie Matheus Leist, who was driving the second car for AJ Foyt. Ironically, Chilton’s best 2018 finish was a twelfth at Texas. A year later, Chilton would choose to skip all ovals except for the Indianapolis 500.

The following season, Carlin scaled back. Charlie Kimball only had funding for a partial season. After Pato O’ Ward went through Spring Training at COTA with Harding Steinbrenner, he realized his funding had gone away also, and he became a free-agent. After Kimball drove for Carlin at St. Petersburg, O’ Ward jumped into the car for the next four races, outperforming Chilton in three of them.

For the 2019 Indianapolis 500, the team ambitiously planned to run three cars. However, two of them failed to qualify – O’ Ward and Chilton. Kimball was the only one of the three to qualify, and he only finished twenty-fifth.

Following Belle Isle, Chilton announced that he would no longer run the ovals except for the Indianapolis 500 – beginning with the next weekend at Texas. Conor Daly was available, so he was hired to be in the Chilton car at Texas; giving that car its best run to that point in a season and a half – an eleventh-place finish. Later in the 2019 season, Daly gave the car another eleventh-place finish at Pocono and a sixth-place finish at Gateway – another all-time best finish for the Chilton car.

For 2020, Carlin scaled back even further. There would be no second car anywhere. Max Chilton would run the non-ovals, as well as Indianapolis; while Conor Daly split time between Ed Carpenter Racing on the non-ovals and Carlin on the ovals – effectively making Daly a fulltime driver between two teams. Daly started the year off with another sixth-place finish at Texas. At the next oval, Daly won the pole for the first race at Iowa – a first for Carlin in IndyCar – and finished eighth in the race. Daly gave Carlin two more Top-Ten finishes in the car at the daytime double-header at Gateway. Chilton never scored at Top-Ten for Carlin in 2020, or the previous two seasons for that matter.

This past season in 2021, it was the same arrangement between the two drivers in one car. But with only four oval races last season, Daly was only in the car three times. Unfortunately, both drivers struggled – but Chilton was a lot worse than Daly. In his three Carlin races, Daly finished twenty-first, twenty-fourth and eleventh. Chilton scored a Carlin career-high tenth at Road America. Other than that, Chilton had a fifteen at Long Beach. Everything else was eighteenth or lower.

In a recent article by David Malsher for Motorsport.com, Chilton beamed about that race saying “…I honestly nailed that race from the start to the finish, gave 110%, and the team gave great calls strategy-wise and to get that tenth” I’m not sure how a person can give 110%, because once they give 100% of all they’ve got – it’s not feasibly possible for them to give any more, but I digress…

From that quote, I think we see the problem. Something tells me that Chilton and Carlin may have been following a different agenda from each other. While Chilton seemed ecstatic to finally score a tenth-place finish in his fourth year with the team, I have an idea that Trevor Carlin had a different definition of success when he entered the series in 2018.

For decades, IndyCar fans have had no trouble showing their disdain for ride-buyers. Unfortunately they help subsidize the series, so they have become a necessary evil. Sometimes, very talented drivers (Santino Ferrucci, for example) have worked hard to align themselves with sponsors who help to get their career started. After a season or two, they are on their own. Sometimes a driver strikes up a relationship with a company that will back them for their entire career, no matter which team they drive for – such as Charlie Kimball and the myriad of diabetic products he has carried on his cars. Then there are those whose family owns a company that backs their son or daughter that may or not have racing talent (see Dalton Kellett or to a lesser extent – James Jakes).

Somewhere in there fits Max Chilton. His two years at Ganassi produced eight Top-Ten finishes, including a fourth in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. You don’t earn those finishes with no talent. But every one of Chilton’s six IndyCar seasons have been with Gallagher – the insurance company that his father heads up. When Chilton joined Carlin in 2018, his father was the sponsor and also part-owner of the team. Working environments like that tend to make an employee feel very comfortable and not very hungry.

I’ve never met Max Chlton, but I’ve been present in several press conferences he has been in and see him regularly at the track. He seems like a nice enough guy. He comes across as a little shy, but very pleasant. By all accounts, I hear that Max Chilton, the person, is a very likeable guy. (All photos by me)

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My wife, Susan, is a lot more outgoing than I am, and she chatted it up with Chilton’s wife, Chloe, at Barber in 2019. She said that Chloe was much more approachable than she expected, and she actually told Susan how the two met in a London art gallery when they were kids. They were childhood sweethearts who actually married later in life. I’ve heard from those that have Instagram and follow them, that the Chiltons lead a magical life of worldwide travel in the finest accommodations.

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I don’t begrudge those that are in a position to lead an extravagant lifestyle. More power to them. I wish I could join them. But when you are able to partake in such a lifestyle, regardless if you are successful in your chosen profession – you are sometimes not motivated to put in the long hard hours it takes to get yourself from mediocre to good, then good to great. I think that is the problem I have with Max Chilton, the driver.

I don’t think the commitment has been there for a while for Chilton, if there was ever a total commitment. Last May, Chilton traveled back to his home in England after the St. Petersburg race – since he was not running the double-header at Texas. He planned to arrive in Indianapolis, just in time for practice for the GMR Grand Prix. The problem was, COVID restrictions delayed his flight – which should have surprised no one. Any driver truly devoted to his craft and his team would have left several days early, just to insure that he was there and ready to go. Instead the car sat silent in the Carlin garage, while Chilton worked his way back across the Atlantic.

To my knowledge, Chilton has never set up a permanent home in the US, which is odd if you’re racing in a US-based series. Michael Andretti tried commuting across the Atlantic during his ill-fated attempt at Formula One in 1993. Many say that contributed mightily to his lack of connection with the car and the team and was part of the reason he didn’t even last a season with McLaren. The same applies to Chilton. You can’t arrive in the US from England and just show up at the track the next day. I guess you can if your father is your sponsor and part-owner of the team, but I would imagine it has a negative effect on your performance and your chemistry with your team.

You hear so many drivers speak of the hard work, the time, the effort and the commitment it takes to be successful in the NTT IndyCar Series. I never saw any sign of commitment from Max Chilton, especially in his four seasons with Carlin.

I feel sorry for Trevor Carlin. Somewhere along the way, his IndyCar plans got derailed by a driver and financial backer who essentially blew up the team’s goals of success, by treating his craft as nothing more than a glamorous hobby. Carlin had been successful in every form of racing they entered, that is…until now. Now they are nothing more than a consultant for a team that has had their own massive struggles in the past few seasons. Juncos Hollinger Racing emerged after a couple of years of being dormant, with a new focus and a healthy infusion of capital. Hopefully, Carlin can rise from the ashes in the next few years and re-enter the NTT IndyCar Series with a talented and hungry driver who will treat the opportunity as most would – as a profession and not a hobby.

George Phillips

2 Responses to “Racing as a Profession, and Not a Hobby”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Chilton probably could have worked harder in his Indycar career, though I’m not sure if it would have yielded significantly better results. He was, of course, quite a competent driver, but even his best performances in Indycar never really indicated much more than supreme competence.

  2. Placing one of the teams owners ( and main sponsor) sons as driver was the teams downfall. They needed better results and Conor’s just wasn’t enough. I think they found recruiting tricky and initially anyway had British staffing. Maybe they needed more local Indycar experience to advise and assist. Carlin is a very professional and serious team but needed more diverse sponsors and a better driver.

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