Wednesday, November 2, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Ed Carpenter Racing's 2016 Season

The antepenultimate IndyCar Wrap-Up brings us to everybody's favorite little team that could and overcome adversity. CFH Racing morphed back into Ed Carpenter Racing after only one season after Wink Hartman withdrew his funding after the decreased prices in the oil industry. Despite the shift in the front office, the team didn't take a step back on the race track.

Josef Newgarden's final year with Ed Carpenter Racing turned out to be his best
Josef Newgarden
The Tennessee-native had another career year, however it started out slowly at St. Petersburg. He qualified 11th and set fastest lap in the race but electrical gremlins ended his day after 47 laps. At Phoenix he completed all 250 miles but not without incident as Charlie Kimball chopped him in turn one and he was caught out by a caution but was able to rebound for a sixth-place finish. Long Beach was a good day with a tenth-place finish but he wasn't able to challenge the front-runners. He returned to Barber a year after his first career victory. He started third and was in the top five all race and was running fourth late but made a daring pass on Will Power in lapped traffic to get the final spot on the podium.

After having a top four qualifying time disallowed for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he started 25th, last on the grid and worked his way to about 15th but couldn't make much more ground. A blend line violation dropped him to 21st in the final results. He qualified in the middle of the front row for the Indianapolis 500 and was in the top five pretty much for the entire race. After Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell took each other out and James Hinchcliffe slipped back a few positions, it appeared it was falling into Newgarden's hands. However, Alexander Rossi ran the fastest race and Carlos Muñoz jumped Newgarden during the final splashes dropping him to third. At Belle Isle, Newgarden was the one who had to conserve fuel and he dropped from a top ten finish to 14th. In race two he started 17th but fought his way to fourth with a little help from a timely yellow.

At Texas, Newgarden ran at the front after starting in the top five and was in the wrong place when Conor Daly lost it exiting turn four. Newgarden fractured his collarbone and hand in the accident. It appeared he would miss a few races but he returned with screws in his shoulder for Road America. A spin in qualifying relegated him to 20th on the grid but he fought his way to eighth. Just a month after his injuries Newgarden qualified second at Iowa and went on to lead 282 of 300 laps in root to his first career oval victory. Newgarden could recapture the magic at Toronto. Juan Pablo Montoya hit Newgarden exiting turn two, dislodging the right rear tire guard and forcing him to pit. He would then slam the turn five barrier on lap 58.

He started third at Mid-Ohio but for the second consecutive race a Penske driver clipped him and forced him to make a pit stop. This time it was Will Power and while Power went on to finish second, Newgarden battled his way back to a tenth-place finish. It was another impressive showing on a 2.5-mile oval for him as he started second again but this time finished fourth after Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay worked their ways to the front. While 20 drivers restarted the Texas race, Newgarden got a night off before heading to Watkins Glen. He started 12th at the famed road course and stopped just before the Mikhail Aleshin caution. In position for a top five finish, Newgarden conserved enough to coast to a runner-up finish, about 16 seconds behind the dominant Scott Dixon. In the finale, Newgarden qualified tenth and ran in the top ten all race before finished sixth. He missed third in the championship by two points to Hélio Castroneves.

Josef Newgarden's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 4th (504 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 4
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 11
Laps Led: 313
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 9.4375
Average Finish: 9.9375

It wasn't a bad rookie year for Spencer Pigot
Spencer Pigot
The 2015 Indy Lights champion started his IndyCar career by taking his scholarship to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing where Pigot ran at St. Petersburg and both Indianapolis races. His debut saw him start 21st and finished a respectable 14th behind fellow rookies Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly. In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Pigot started 18th and worked his way to 11th. He had an accident during Indianapolis 500 practice and ended up starting 29th. He had a respectable race under he ran out of fuel under caution and finished five laps down in 25th.

It appeared Pigot's season was done after fulfilling the scholarship but he was signed to run the remaining road and street courses for Ed Carpenter Racing after Indianapolis. Pigot went to Belle Isle no previous experience working with the team. He started 21st in race one and had a good race going until being penalized for hitting pit equipment, dropping him a lap down and to 17th. He started a position better in race two but a suspension failure left him with an 18th-place finish.

His first permanent road course race was at Road America and started 17th but worked his way up to ninth-place, his first career top ten finish. He started 21st again at Toronto and managed 19th. Pigot stopped early at Mid-Ohio after starting 19th and benefitted from an early caution that vaulted him to the top ten. He held his ground and came home with a seventh-place finish. Pigot tried to stretch fuel at Watkins Glen and ended up finishing 15th. His season ended prematurely at Sonoma as a gearbox issue halted him after 35 laps.

Spencer Pigot's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 21st (165 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 20.7
Average Finish: 15.7

Things aren't going the right direction for Ed Carpenter as a driver
Ed Carpenter
The oval-only schedule has been looking more and more like a bad idea for Ed Carpenter and 2016 was another step back for the owner-driver. The season started well, and earlier than usual for Carpentry as he qualified fifth at Phoenix and was running in the top ten but got in the marbles exiting turn four and hit the barrier. At Indianapolis, he started 20th, his worst starting position in the race but worked his way to the front only to have an engine expire just prior to the halfway point of the race.

He qualified seventh at Iowa and was in the top ten all race until a gearbox issue cost him dearly and dropped him to 18th, finishing 16 laps behind his victories teammate Newgarden. He had another engine failure at Pocono, this one coming just over a quarter of the way into the race after he started tenth. At Texas, Carpenter ran at the front all night and for a moment appeared to be the only driver who could challenge James Hinchcliffe. Then he got into an incident with Scott Dixon and five laps after that he go into Hélio Castroneves and Max Chilton exiting turn four and his race and season was over 25 laps before the finish.

Ed Carpenter's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 25th (67 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Best Finish: 18th (Iowa and Texas)
Laps Led: 1
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 11.5
Average Finish: 21.8

This is a team in transition and I don't know where it is going. Josef Newgarden is gone and Ed Carpenter should shake his hand and give him a kiss on the cheek for all he did for that team. Now the team is without its golden boy and one-and-a-half seats open. Talk about big shoes to fill especially for a low-funded team. The next step for the team is crucial and losing Jeremy Milless to Andretti Autosport hasn't helped the team.

There are plenty of drivers out there but can any of them replicated half of what Newgarden did? Newgarden turned the team into a championship contender. Conor Daly isn't going to be able to do that in 2017. Maybe after a year or so but whether it is Daly, Spencer Pigot, JR Hildebrand, Sage Karam or whomever it could be in the #21 Chevrolet the goal should be to at least finish in the top ten of the championship.

Pigot deserves more than two-thirds of the season and running the road and street courses with the Indianapolis 500. Is that enough of a splash for the #21 Chevrolet? Then comes Ed Carpenter. While the owner-driver only does oval races and there were only five in 2016 and there will be six in 2017 and he had mechanical issues ends his day in two races, Carpenter was running at the finish of one race and that was 16 laps down. He is 35 years old, turns 36 years old in March and while he might not want to hear it and he might still have plenty in the tank, maybe he should consider stepping out of the car for the abbreviated season he does and have two full-time cars going for the championship. Funding is hard to come by but if Carpenter wants to run himself in a third-car for all the ovals beyond Indianapolis, that is fine but I think the best thing for the team would be two full-time cars.

Considering entering the 2016 season this team lost the support of Wink Hartman, Newgarden and company persevered and ended up with fourth in the championship. Now the team has lost Newgarden, the technical guru Milless and the team doesn't appear to be in that much better of a financial situation. The team has only been around since 2012 and Ed Carpenter Racing has been the poster team for entering IndyCar and becoming a contender. The team faces its greatest obstacle as it enters a new phase of its existence.