Today we continue our team review series for the 2018 season. In this edition, we take a look back at Juncos Racing’s year. After debuting in 2017, the fledgling team stepped up their efforts for the next season.
Stepping Things Up
2018 saw several new teams and drivers make their transition into the Verizon IndyCar Series. Among those would be the Juncos Racing stable. After years of success in the Road to Indy ladder series, the team debuted at the Indianapolis 500 with Spencer Pigot and Sebastien Saavedra in 2017.
For 2018, the team expanded its efforts with their Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser. Kaiser and Juncos announced plans to enter four races together (Phoenix, Long Beach and both Indianapolis Motor Speedway races).
In January, the team announced Kaiser would be joined by Formula Renault driver Rene Binder. Binder was added for four races during the season (St. Petersburg, Barber, Toronto and Mid-Ohio).
For their first race, Binder qualified 23rd and only improved to 22nd. His first start ended with a crash on Lap 101 of the 110-lap event. On March 28, the team announced Binder would join the team for the Belle Isle doubleheader in June.
Three weeks after St. Petersburg, the team headed to ISM Raceway in Arizona, this time with Kaiser making his series debut. The 2016 Indy Lights winner at the track started 14th, but his day ended after contact with the front stretch wall. Kaiser finished 21st, completing just 174 of 250 laps.
Kaiser’s debut on a road course started off with an uninspiring 24th-place qualifying effort. From his last-place start, the rookie moved his way up to 16th, one lap off winner Alexander Rossi.
A week later at Barber, Binder returned to the cockpit. Following a 22nd-place start (their best on a road course to date), Binder turned in his best performance of 2018.
Binder improved from 22nd to 16th (albeit two laps down), giving the team another positive step in their first season.
From Barber, the month of May loomed. Fortunately for Juncos Racing, they already had experience in preparing for the Indianapolis 500.
This season would have a much different feel for the team. Instead of two cars, they would enter just one. That single car entered both races scheduled on the IMS grounds for the month.
Unfortunately for Kaiser and Juncos, the month started off with a 24th-place qualifying effort for the IndyCar Grand Prix. Kaiser, who won one of the 2017 Indy Lights races at the track, did step things up during the race. He would lead the first two laps of his career and ended the 85-lap event in 19th.
In his first Indianapolis 500 attempt, Kaiser continued to impress early on. He qualified 17th (second-fastest of the four rookies), but Race Day would be a struggle.
Kaiser dropped out of the race due to mechanical issues after completing just 110 of 200 laps. A frustrating 29th would be the finish in his final scheduled start of the season.
The Belle Isle doubleheader saw Binder once again make his return to the series.
After qualifying last in the 23-car field for both races, Binder was able to muster finishes of 21st and 22nd. For the two races, he finished three and four laps down.
The team did not participate in the following week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
In May, they announced Alfonso Celis Jr. would run for the team at Road America, two weeks after Texas.
Celis made his Indy Lights debut with Juncos during the doubleheader weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in April. For his IndyCar debut, Celis started 21st and ended the afternoon one lap down in 20th.
The team did not enter the following race at Iowa Speedway two weeks later. Binder and Juncos returned to competition a week after the Iowa race.
On the Exhibition Place street course in Toronto, Binder earned his best IndyCar start (19th). Although he did not better his career-best from Barber, Binder did finish 17th place after completing 83 of 85 laps.
Binder’s next and final start of 2018 would not be an indication of any progress. He qualified 23rd and finished 21st at Mid-Ohio, one lap off the pace.
A few weeks after Binder’s 2018 swan song, Juncos announced Celis would once again drive for the team. This team, he would do so at Portland International Raceway, the penultimate race of 2018.
Celis and Juncos made their appearance at Portland following the team’s two-race absence from the grid (Pocono and Gateway).
Despite starting 23rd, Celis improved to 17th and completed the 105-lap distance. Not only did Celis earn his best finish, but Juncos also earned their second lead-lap finish of 2018. This would be the team’s final appearance of 2018, as they would not enter the season finale in Sonoma.
Looking to 2019
Team Owner Ricardo Juncos has expressed his intentions to run two cars for 2019. Juncos also expressed his desire for at least one car to be full-time. Nothing has been finalized in regards to their future plans at this time.
Juncos has also emphasized the influence potential funding will play for the team’s driver lineup. Given the team’s extensive history in the Road to Indy, there will for sure be a number of names in the mix.
Header Image by Matt Fraver/INDYCAR.