Friday, February 23, 2018

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: Ed Carpenter Racing

We have broken into the double figures and the tenth IndyCar team preview will be the final Chevrolet team, Ed Carpenter Racing. Year two of the post-Josef Newgarden-era will see another new full-time driver in the #21 Chevrolet but once again it will be a familiar face. Meanwhile, the #20 Chevrolet will continue to be shared and owner-driver Ed Carpenter has brought a man from across the pond under his roof.

2017 Ed Carpenter Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Iowa, Hildebrand)
Poles: 0
Best Starting Position: 2nd (Indianapolis 500, Carpenter and Iowa, Hildebrand)
Final Championship Positions: 15th (J.R. Hildebrand), 20th (Spencer Pigot), 22nd (Ed Carpenter).

2018 Drivers:

Ed Carpenter - #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet
After coming off a difficult 2016 season where he retired from four of five races and did not have a finish on the lead lap. His season started on the back foot, 21st out of 21 cars at Phoenix but with five cars taken out before completing turn one, Carpenter had some help up the order. He finished two laps down but came home in seventh position, his first top ten finished since Iowa in 2015. Carpenter had another front row starting position for the Indianapolis 500 but the speed did not hold up in the race and a broken front wing was another set back on his way to an 11th place finish.

Carpenter was caught out in the lap 152 accident at Texas and the crew got the car repaired so he could get back out on track and complete enough laps to secure a second consecutive 11th place finish. He started directly behind his teammate J.R. Hildebrand at Iowa in fourth and was in the top ten most of the race but fell back in the final third and finished 12th. Pocono was a difficult day and he finished 12th again and Gateway, and his season, ended after five laps when he had nowhere to go when Will Power spun exiting turn two.

Numbers to Remember:
3.333: Average number of retirements per season for Carpenter during the aero kit-era (2015-17).

5.667: Average number of starts per season for Carpenter during the aero kit-era.

7: Laps led during the aero kit-era.

240: Laps led from 2012-14.

I don't know what to say about Ed Carpenter anymore. He runs six races. What is a good season when you only run six races? Is six finishes between seventh and tenth a good season? Is one victory, not at Indianapolis, and five retirements due to hard accidents a good season? Obviously, he doesn't want to have five accidents and tear up a lot of race cars but his championship finish is irrelevant and I doubt he cares where he finishes in the oval points because it is irrelevant. If IndyCar gave some money away for top honors in each discipline then maybe Carpenter would care.

Carpenter didn't have a top five finish in the aero kit-era. He had three top tens in 17 starts. I bet he wants to do better than that and it is approaching four years since his most recent victory. Getting back to the top step of the podium is the only goal.

Jordan King - #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet
Ed Carpenter Racing has found another Brit to jump in the #20 Chevrolet for road and street courses and King comes over from Formula Two. The 23-year-old Briton was Alexander Rossi's teammate at Racing Engineering in the 2015 GP2 Series season. Rossi finished second in the championship, scoring 181.5 points and picking up three victories while King scored 60 points in a three-way tie for tenth but dropping to King to 12th in the final championship standings based on tiebreaker. His best finish in 2015 was second in the sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps, right behind Rossi.

King returned to Racing Engineering for the 2016 season and he won two races, both were sprint races at Red Bull Ring and Silverstone. He picked up three other podium finishes that season and improved his championship finish to seventh on 122 points but for the second consecutive season he finished behind his teammate in the championship as Norman Nato finished fifth with 136 points despite having two victories and five podium finishes just like King. King was also a Manor F1 development driver for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The 2017 Formula Two season saw King move to MP Motorsport and the season started with 10 finishes in the points in the first 11 races, however the strong start could not translate in the championship. King never stood on the podium and dropped to 11th in the championship on 62 points.

Numbers to Remember:
8: Retirements in three GP2/Formula Two seasons.

36: Finishes in the points in 65 GP2/Formula Two starts

1,630: Days between King's most recent pole position (September 22, 2013 at the Nürburgring in British Formula Three) and the qualifying session for the St. Petersburg season opener.

Same with Carpenter, I don't know what to expect from the road and street course driver and in this case King. What does ECR expect? Obviously 11 top ten finishes would be great but when Mike Conway had two victories in 2014 and those were his only top ten finishes in 12 starts that was passed off as a successful season but he finished ten points behind Carpenter that season and yes, Carpenter had three double points races but the most points Carpenter could have scored was 515 points while Conway had 648 points on the table. Carpenter scored just over 50% of his maximum total points while Conway scored 38.88% of his maximum total points.

King will be a rookie and he has an eye on becoming a full-time IndyCar driver. ECR (with some help of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) raised Josef Newgarden to be one of the top drivers in IndyCar and raised Spencer Pigot to a full-time driver. King is in a good place. He is in a diverse rookie class that includes drivers from Indy Lights, a driver he outperformed in GP2 and a DTM driver returning to single-seaters for the first time in seven years. With the new aero kit I am not sure he will be as out of water as he would have been if he had entered a year earlier. King did not tear up much equipment and was reasonable competitive. His goal should be to be on the heel of his teammate, especially if Pigot takes another step forward.

Spencer Pigot - #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
The California-born driver returned to Ed Carpenter Racing in 2017 and once again was in the #20 Chevrolet for the road and street course races. Unfortunately for Pigot, a promising season opener ended when his brakes blew to pieces when entering his pit box for the first pit stop of the day. A two-stop strategy paid off at Long Beach and he finished eighth but a promising run at Barber ended up when spun on his own exiting turn five while running in eighth position. A top ten finish was nearly ruined when Pigot stalled during his first pit stop during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he worked his way from 15th to ninth. Pigot moved to Juncos Racing for the Indianapolis 500 but he was off pace all race and finished six laps down in 18th.

He started the Belle Isle weekend with a tenth place finish in race one but ended it with a colossal engine failure in race two. He finished 12th at Road America and made a few incredible passes on the likes of Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay to get into the top ten but contact with Takuma Sato sent him to the back he finished 18th. He suffered a hard accident in warm-up for the Mid-Ohio race and finished 19th. Things appeared to be falling his way at Watkins Glen and his pit strategy had him leading the race and in position for a top five finish but Pigot could not make the fuel strategy work and dropped to 12th. He overcame an early pit stop to finish 13th at Sonoma, the first car one lap down.

Numbers to Remember:
0: Retirements in 22 starts due to an accident. All three of his retirements have been because of mechanical issues.

3.5: Pigot's average starting position improved by 3.5 positions from 20.6 in 2016 to 17.1 in 2017.

11: Pigot has finished 11 races on the lead lap and 11 races at least one lap down.

Pigot's best days in 2017 were not his best results. He rolled the dice at Toronto and made passes stick in places where most veterans wouldn't take the gamble. He seemed to be gaining confidence each lap at Barber before he stepped it a smidge over the edge. Not all his races were wasted results. He turned around a lost day at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he held his own in races where it would have been easy to get down in the race car and fall down the running order.

The one thing we have yet to see from Pigot is that stand out day. We have come close to it but we have not seen a full race yet. We have see great halves and quarters and thirds of races but a great start to finish is what we are looking for. This is another step up for Pigot and he is the guy now. He is the number one driver and gets to do all the testing and lead the way. There are two things I think Pigot has to do and that is make it to the second round of qualifying on a road/street circuit and get a top five finish, neither he has done in his career.

This will be the third season Pigot has participated in but he is still learning, as this is his first full season and his only two oval starts have both been Indianapolis 500s. He has never raced Phoenix, Texas, Pocono or Gateway and he hasn't been to Iowa since 2015. The good news is he is with one of the right teams when it comes to ovals. I think he improves and accomplishes many of the little things he needs to before he can start fighting for race victories. He will be pushing for the top 12 in the championship.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.