Carroll gets IndyCar shot with Andretti Autosport
Michael Andretti stood atop the pit box in the very last stall at Watkins Glen International, glanced at the lap times on the computer above him, then looked down and gave Adam Carroll a thumbs-up as the driver skidded to a halt.
``I was just trying to get up to speed,'' Carroll said as he climbed from the cockpit of the orange-and-black No. 27 he was piloting for Andretti Autosport. ``The circuit's very, very challenging, so that's one part that makes it difficult, learning the limits of the car and knowing how hard you can push. It's hard to just get back into it, get back up to speed.''
Apparently, it wasn't that difficult for the 27-year-old from Portadown, Northern Ireland, who signed to drive a fifth car for Andretti Autosport on a limited schedule when Boost Mobile came aboard as sponsor.
After getting behind the wheel of an IndyCar for the first time just a week ago, Carroll qualified an impressive 10th at WGI, ahead of teammates Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay, and trailing only by Marco Andretti's eighth-place run.
``That's the happiest I've ever been qualifying 10th,'' Carroll said.
And he hadn't raced in 14 months.
``An awesome job,'' Michael Andretti said. ``Surprising? No, because I know he's a really good, world-class driver. Just give him some time. He's doing everything that we thought he would do.''
Michael Andretti is a busy man. He's co-owner of the only four-car team in the IndyCar Series, is promoting two series races this season, and like all owners is always scouring the road for talent.
He also has his 23-year-old son Marco driving for him and a father who thinks he knows best. Mario Andretti, the 1978 former world champion and 1969 Indy winner, would like to see grandson Marco get a Formula One ride, and that proved a stroke of good luck for Carroll.
When Marco began using the A1 Grand Prix circuit to hone his skills on road courses, Michael Andretti headed the U.S. entry. A1GP, which went into liquidation after the 2008-09 season, was a single-make, international open-wheel series where drivers solely represented their nations. Carroll captured the final championship for Ireland with two dominant victories at Brands Hatch, England, the last weekend of that season.
``Just all year he was solid,'' Michael Andretti said. ``It was the first time I really watched him and he was the class of the field almost every weekend. That's what caught my eye.''
While England has produced F1 champions such as Graham Hill and John Surtees, and Scotland has former greats Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart and current two-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, Ireland's star open-wheel driver of the past two decades was Eddie Irvine, who won four races in 1999 and finished second in the standings.
Unlike Irvine, who earned a fortune in real estate before he made it to F1, Carroll has bounced around in his career because of a lack of sponsorship.
In 2003, he drove for three different teams and also took part in the final event of the F1 season as a partner to Nico Rosberg. The following year he competed in Formula Three and finished as runner-up to Nelson Piquet Jr. before joining the GP2 Series in 2005 and also signing as a test driver for BAR-Honda in F1.
Still, Carroll, who started racing go-karts at age 9, has excelled at every level he's raced with more than 40 career wins.
He had to start searching again once A1GP folded and phoned Andretti last October. He later toured the Andretti Autosport facilities in Indianapolis, and a two-race deal was put together.
``It was really, really difficult trying to get in a car, but into the proper car, not to go and do something I've already done before,'' said Carroll, who also will race at Mid-Ohio in August.
Carroll made his IndyCar Series debut Sunday in the Camping World Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and ran as high as ninth.
``He did a great job. He's gone fast in everything in his career,'' said Hunter-Reay, who also raced A1GP. ``He's good. He belongs in IndyCar, for sure. We'll see where it goes with him.''
Carroll finished Sunday's 60-lap race around the 11-turn, 3.4-mile layout in 16th. That was one place behind former F1 driver Takuma Sato of Japan, the top finisher among the six rookies in the event.
``Well, that was pretty eventful,'' Carroll said. ``Because the race was so long, sometimes I found that I struggled with the balance. In the middle, the car felt really good, and I was able to run with a lot of the guys up front. I struggled after that last stop.''
Michael Andretti has operated with five teams before and, after having just secured funding for Hunter-Reay for the remainder of the season, said a fifth car with Carroll in the seat was possible for next year.
``We're working on it. I think we're capable of it. We've done it many, many times,'' Michael Andretti said. ``... Our utopia would be to have five cars in the mix. It probably won't work out that way, but we'll see.''
Carroll is cautiously optimistic.
``Next year, even a half season I'd be absolutely delighted,'' he said. ``The main thing is that I got the experience, got more time in the car and got a pretty good start. We'll go back, see where I can improve, and come back stronger at Mid-Ohio.''