Carmel residents Chris Williams and Tyce Carlson bring their Fan Force United race team to the IndyCar garages
Six months ago,Carmel residents Chris Williams and Tyce Carlson had the remnants of the Alliance Motorsports Indy Lights team divided and packed into the garages of their homes. The team had been planning to compete in the 2011 Indy Lights season with driver Shane Hmeil when a crash at Terre Haute abruptly ended his move into the series with the team.
Although disappointed, the pair continued their day jobs, planning and saving. Williams is a financial services professional at West Point financial and Carlson is a bail bondsman at Noblesville Bail Bonds. However, their hearts remained committed to returning to the Indy Lights grid at the start of the 2012 season.
Joined by new partners, Jason Peters and Scott Williamson, Williams forged a deal with hot, young, Indian driver Armaan Ebrahim for the season. Ebrahim comes with an impressive resume for a 23-year-old. He stepped into a go-kart at 13 and found his calling. At 14, he won the National Karting Championship and the National Racing Championship. He was the youngest driver in the world to drive an A1 GP car and the youngest driver to ever compete in the GP2 Asia Championship, finishing in the top 10. He took a third place podium position at the F2 race in Valencia.
Ebrahim says that racing has been the best decision he has ever made. Originally, he aspired to race in F1, but says, “I have come here to race because the level of racing in America is coming back to how it was back in the day. The Indy 500 is a very prestigious event and it’s a different career move, starting with Indy Lights and hoping to move into IndyCar.”
The move to the United States has brought some new challenges. “I have only raced on one street circuit and there are no ovals in Europe,” Ebrahim says. “The first oval I drove was at Fontana and then later at Iowa. The (Indianapolis)Speedway is very different. You see it on TV and the experience is totally different. You can’t prepare yourself for it until you actually do it.”
He has only been in the United States for two months with little time for fun. “We’ve been travelling and being flat out on the racing and a physical fitness regimen.” However he has discovered something new. “I love cheesecake,” he says. “That’s really good.”
As impressive as Ebrahim is on track, he is equally as personable off track, which fits right in with the underlying mission of the new Fan Force United team. “We wanted to re-brand ourselves and have it more of a fan-friendly or fan-driven team,” Williams says. “They’re what drives motorsports. If they don’t support sponsors, then the sponsors don’t support us.”
There was a great deal of excitement about the underlying mission of the team. “Every race we go to, we have an event. Fans are welcome to the pits and welcome to the garage here in Speedway. That’s one of the reasons we chose this location in the heart of Speedway. On Carb Day, Main Street is closed and it’s a great spot to be – right in the middle of the action.”
The middle of the action is the shop vacated by Dallara on Main Street where team manager, Ted Bitting started hiring the crew and getting the team organized. “I like this,” Bitting says about the process of putting together a new team. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years. Two years for fun and the rest has been work.”
The days for Williams, Carlson and Bitting began to get longer as Carlson finalized a deal for Emerson Newton-John to join the team in a second Indy Lights car for the Freedom 100 race on May 25.
However, it was the news announced on May 8 that switched the team into overdrive with a flurry of excitement. They would move into the IndyCar paddock with Lotus ambassador, Jean Alesi . At 47-years-old, the former F1 driver who headed driver development of the Lotus T125 customer single-seater project, had never driven an IndyCar and never raced on an oval, however he was eager to do so.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Bitting says about the demands of getting the team ready under such pressure.”It’s a matter of how much you want to put into it. It’s a process and you just have less time. You can’t eat lunch or have dinner with your wife. It’s the business side of 18 hours a day.”
For the team owners, despite being up at all hours communicating with sponsors around the world, it’s a dream come true.
“This first foray at Indy, it means everything,” Williams says.”We have dreamed of winning the 500, and you can’t win it if you aren’t in it.”
“It’s still a shock to just have the opportunity,” Peters added. “It’s just hard to describe. It’s like trying to describe the sunset to someone who’s blind.”
Carlson had raced at Indy in the cockpit of a car until 2001, so he had an understanding of what it takes. “I lived within five minutes of the Speedwaymy whole life until six years ago when I moved to Carmel,” Carlson says. “I’ve wanted to be a part of this since I was 6-years-old and our goal has always been to get to the IndyCar level. This is an opportunity that gets our foot in the door.”
“I think, clearly, we are an underdog, but it doesn’t feel that way,” Williams says. “Tyce and Ted have done a great job. It’s going as smoothly as it could possibly go and that’s because Tyce and Ted have been so prepared.”
“It’s these guys,” Carlson says, pointing to the crew working like bees around the car, “they are the ones who earn it.”
Like Carlson says, this could be a corner for the young team. “Turning point? I think so,” Williams says. “We’re sure working on it like it is. We’re not ahead yet. But we’ve understood that from day one. You start behind and you work to catch up.”
Fans can watch the team’s progress by signing up as a fan at www.fanforceunited.com or like them on the FanForceUnited Facebook page to get updates and information about track activities, team events and results – and don’t forget to drop by the garage and watch some Indy dreams coming true.