Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Ed Carpenter Racing

Our fourth 2017 IndyCar Team Preview features the team arguably going through the biggest transition heading into the season and that is with two teams changing manufactures. Ed Carpenter Racing has sold its golden goose and now it needs to see if it can make the most of two highly regarded drivers who are trying to become staples on the IndyCar grid. While going through many changes, Ed Carpenter Racing needs to see if it can maintain its position at the front end of the IndyCar grid.

2016 Ed Carpenter Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (Iowa)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 2nd (Indianapolis 500, Iowa, Pocono).
Final Championship Positions: 4th (Josef Newgarden), 21st (Spencer Pigot), 23rd (J.R. Hildebrand), 25th (Ed Carpenter).

2017 Drivers:

J.R. Hildebrand - #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
After spending the better part of the last four seasons on the sidelines, J.R. Hildebrand is back in a full-time IndyCar seat. The Californian's occasional IndyCar outings since losing his ride with Panther Racing during the 2013 season have mostly been with Ed Carpenter Racing and they have been respectable cameos from Hildebrand. He has finished in the top ten in the last three Indianapolis 500s and has started in the top ten in two of those three races.

Numbers to Remember: 
7: IndyCar starts since Hildebrand was sacked by Panther Racing after the 2013 Indianapolis 500. 

1,407: Days between Hildebrand's most recent street course start (São Paulo 2013) and St. Petersburg.

2,758: Days between Hildebrand's most recent victory in any series (Sonoma 2009 in Indy Lights) and St. Petersburg.

Hildebrand has some big shoes to fill as he replaces Josef Newgarden. While most saw Newgarden's success as him overachieving with a small team, it also showed ECR has top equipment and that won't be an obstacle for Hildebrand to overcome. It shouldn't be expected for Hildebrand to pick up where Newgarden left off and be on the verge of being a title contender but he should be able to get three or four top five finishes and about eight top ten finishes while finishing in the back half of the top ten in the championship and after the Phoenix test, he clearly has the pace to contend for a victory or two on ovals.   

Spencer Pigot - #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet
After not securing a full-time ride for the 2016 season, the 2015 Indy Lights champion pieced together a schedule that allowed Pigot to run majority of the IndyCar races including making his Indianapolis 500 debut. After three respectable finishes with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, he joined ECR midseason and learned on the fly with the team and along the way scored two top ten finishes. 

Numbers to Remember: 
10: Starts in his rookie season (three for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and seven for ECR).

16.5: Points averaged per start in Pigot's rookie season.

14.034: Average finish of Carpenter's co-driver since he starts running only ovals in 2014.

After diving into the deep end with a team he had next to no relationship with in the middle of last year, Pigot now is familiar with the ECR crew and has IndyCar experience on nine of the 11 tracks he is scheduled to contest this season. I think Pigot's goal should be to have an average finish below 12.5 while picking up at least four top ten finishes and advancing to the second round of qualifying in at least four races.

Ed Carpenter - #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet
Things have not been getting better for the two-time Indianapolis 500 pole position winner. Carpenter has not finished on the lead lap in his last six starts and over the last two seasons he has led two laps. In his last 11 starts, Carpenter has eight retirements, four because of accidents and four due to mechanical issues. While he failed to finish in the top fifteen once in 2016, Carpenter did start in the top ten on three occasions. 

Numbers to Remember: 
17: Starts since deciding to run oval ovals starting in 2014.

10: Starts since his most recent top-five finish.

16.11: Average finished since 2014.

1: Carpenter was running at the finish of one race last season.

Carpenter's race craft has eroded over the last two seasons. His win or bust psyche is going to leave Carpenter bust when it comes to buying spare parts. He needs to get the car to the end of the race even if it means being a lap or two down. You can still get a top ten finish on ovals while being a lap down as we have seen at Iowa and Texas in the last few seasons. Carpenter needs to finish at least four races in 2017 and have at least three top ten finishes with no retirements due to accidents. If he can't do that then maybe it will be time for Carpenter to consider cutting his schedule to just the Indianapolis 500. 

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.