Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: CFH Racing's 2015 Season

This Wednesday Wrap-Up will profile CFH Racing's 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. The newly formed team after the merger of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing had a highly successful first season together and the team was fighting for the championship entering the final race of the season. The team faced some adversity as a fair share of equipment was torn up but the team showed it had the pace to keep up with the established IndyCar teams.

Josef Newgarden stepped up to the next level in 2015
Josef Newgarden
The young American had a breakout season in 2015. He improved on each of his first four races. A 12th at St. Petersburg followed by a ninth at NOLA and seventh at Long Beach. Then came Barber. Qualified fifth. Made a few great passes early in the race and was in the right place when the first caution came out. While Graham Rahal went off strategy, Newgarden held the advantage and though he was being run down by Rahal, he had just enough of a gap to hold him off when he completed the 90th lap of the race, securing him his first career IndyCar victory.

Newgarden was not a factor in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he had a much better run later that month. He started ninth and finished ninth but he earned that finish. He was up and down the field all race and recovered at the end to scored his first career top ten in the Indianapolis 500. However, he wasn't the best CFH car in this year's Indianapolis 500. J.R. Hildebrand earned that honor with an eighth place finish. Newgarden would finish eighth six days later in race one from Belle Isle but race two ended with an accident.

CFH had a terrible night in Texas and both cars retired. Needing a break, Newgarden had one fall into his lap. A caution for James Jakes stalling fell right after Newgarden made a pit stop and he was sitting pretty as the rest of the field had to stop. He dominated the second half of the race and led CFH Racing's first ever 1-2 finish with Luca Filippi in tow. However, it was back into the cellar for Newgarden at Fontana where he and co-owner Ed Carpenter came together.

After a few weeks off, he came back and won his first career pole position at Milwaukee. He led 95 of the first 100 laps however Sébastien Bourdais dominated the second half of the race and Newgarden had nothing for the Frenchman and settled for fifth. At Iowa, he started seventh and was the man to beat after Tony Kanaan retired. He led over a third of the race but Ryan Hunter-Reay turned up the wick, passed him with 37 to go and never looked back, leaving Newgarden with a second place finish. A 13th at Mid-Ohio followed and he would go on to finish second at Pocono after starting the race very well but disappearing for 70% of the race only to find himself in contention in the closing laps. He entered Sonoma with a slim chance but a chance nonetheless for the Astor Cup only to have his hopes squashed when he stalled in the pit lane, caught fire and went down a lap to finish 21st for a fourth time in 2015.

The Italian Luca Filippi had a respectable season
Luca Filippi
The Italian got his first significant crack at IndyCar in 2015 and scored a ninth place finish on his CFH debut with a tenth in his second race for the team. Through two races, Filippi had as many top ten finishes as his predecessors as Mike Conway. He stalled on pit lane at Long Beach and never recovered. At Barber, he had a decent race and finished 11th. At the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he finished 14th.

He got another ninth at Belle Isle but hydroplaned into the turn one tire right when the red flag was displayed. In the second race, he spun and he never recovered and had to settle for 17th. In Toronto, he had a great race. Newgarden won but Filippi went from sixth on the grid and passed Hélio Castroneves to give CFH the 1-2 finish. After nearly two months off, Filippi didn't return until Mid-Ohio and he had a better day than the result will show. He finished 21st but ran out of fuel on the final lap after spending most of the race in the top ten. At Sonoma, an electrical gremlin put him two laps down and he finished 24th.

Misfortune, whether of his doing or not, followed Ed Carpenter all year
Ed Carpenter
Accidents were a big part of Ed Carpenter's 2015 season. His accident prior to Indianapolis 500 qualifying was the straw that broke the camel's back and nearly caused anarchy, which led to the regulation changes. In the race, he got together with Oriol Servià and finished 30th, his worst Indianapolis 500 finish since his 31st on debut. An engine failure ended his day at Texas and he and Newgarden got together at Fontana.

At Milwaukee, he brought the car home in one piece and in tenth position. At Iowa, he had a memorable battle with Sage Karam and finished sixth. Pocono was a struggle for Carpenter and he retired with another engine failure.

Year one for CFH Racing was a success and with Newgarden slated to return and Carpenter likely to return, the team has plenty to build on in 2016. Filippi has not been confirmed to be back but he definitely should. He didn't win like Mike Conway did but he drove better than Conway. He has the pace to compete at the front and if CFH can find a way to improve in road course qualifying then they might be a bigger challenge to the likes of Penske and Ganassi.

Finances have been a concern for the team. With oil prices dropping, Wink Hartman's wallet is a little leaner than it was when he first started working with Sarah Fisher. Josef Newgarden got sponsorship-worthy results and he is very personable. Locking down a sponsor for a large majority of the races for Newgarden could go a long way for the long-term security of the team.

Carpenter's results in 2015 showed how fickle running a short season could be. There are only so many opportunities and one bad race is not a big deal but two bad races kill your season. He had two engine failures but at Texas he wasn't close on pace prior to the problem. With Fontana likely not returning and the futures of Phoenix, Milwaukee and Pocono up in the air, Carpenter has to be concerned about how much work he will get in the future. If there is anyone who should be promoting IndyCar oval races, it's Carpenter. Six races aren't enough for Carpenter. He needs at least eight and ten would be heavenly.

I am concerned for CFH but not because Wink Hartman isn't as rich as he once was. I am concerned because they were a championship contender in year one. The bar has been set above their eyeballs. The daunting task to live up to the expectations could break the team. They kept Newgarden for 2016 but what about 2017? Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves aren't getting any younger and eventually Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske will be looking for the best driver they don't have and that arguably could be Newgarden. If Newgarden is able to pick up where he left off in 2015, find the ability to close out races he is dominating and keep the car out of the barrier, he can pull out an extraordinary championship for the little teams that could.