Wednesday, October 10, 2018

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Ed Carpenter Racing's 2018 Season

The fourth IndyCar wrap-up looks at Ed Carpenter Racing. The Chevrolet team had a new face but results were difficult to come by. There were a few positive days but the team struggled to string together consistent results.

A few bright spots stood out in Spencer Pigot's first full IndyCar season

Spencer Pigot
After two years in a part-time role for Ed Carpenter Racing, 2018 marked the year Pigot became the team leader and full-time driver in the #21 Chevrolet. With the new role, Pigot visited five ovals for the first time in an IndyCar.

What objectively was his best race?
Second at Iowa! It was a podium finish and while there was a fluky nature to the end of that race that led to Pigot's runner-up result but he was one of the four or five best cars all race. Pigot was fast and overcame from an 18th place starting position. Josef Newgarden was running away with this race but in the second green flag run of this race he was keeping up with the big boys. He might have been fortunate that a pair of drivers made pit stops late and the race didn't go green but he deserved this podium finish.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Iowa but let's shout out Portland, where Pigot went from 17th to fourth. He benefitted from the first lap incident but Pigot was making passes and it was an encouraging performance. It was exciting. It reminded me of the performances Pigot had in 2017 when he was driving through the field and passing past champions in the process. It was another glimpse of what Pigot could be.

What objectively was his worst race?
He saved his worst for last although it was his gearbox that let him down at Sonoma and he ended the season with a 24th place result.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Can I say the first five races of the season? Here were his finishes: 15th, 14th, 15th, 15th, 15th.

There are a few other candidates.

Indianapolis. He started sixth and had an early pit lane speeding penalty ruin his race. He went a lap down and ended the race in 20th.

He was having a good day at Toronto and then hit the barrier exiting the final corner.

There wasn't a day where everything went against Pigot but there were plenty of races where one thing went wrong and then we never heard from him again and he would inevitably finish 15th.

Spencer Pigot's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 14th (325 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 4
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 14.875
Average Finish: 13.529

This year left Ed Carpenter with something to smile about
Ed Carpenter
For the fifth consecutive season, Carpenter took the role as oval specialist for his own team in the #20 Chevrolet. The prior three seasons had seen disappointing for the part-timer but 2018 proved to be one of Carpenter's best partial seasons yet.

What objectively was his best race?
Second at Indianapolis! This was Carpenter's year. His third pole position was his best performance in the race he holds so near and dear to his heart and he was at the front but didn't have enough to beat Team Penske's Will Power. Of the 65 laps Carpenter led in this year's Indianapolis 500, only two were laps after the halfway point. He was there but that wasn't going to be enough to defeat Power.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Indianapolis. There really wasn't another race that came close.

What objectively was his worst race?
Texas. He and Robert Wickens got together when Carpenter was already a lap down and he was classified as 20th. It wasn't a great race to begin with for Carpenter and made even worse that his contact took out one of the best cars in this race.

What subjectively was his worst race?
He really only had one bad race and four mediocre races and then Indianapolis, likely the only race that Carpenter gives a damn about.

I don't think Carpenter gives a damn about any race other than Indianapolis.

Ed Carpenter's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 20th (187 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 66
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 11.4
Average Finish: 10.1667

Jordan King turned some heads with his pace but couldn't turn it into results
Jordan King
After spending three seasons in GP2/Formula Two, the Englishman moved to America and took over in the #20 Chevrolet for the road and street course races. King had previously been a teammate in GP2 to Alexander Rossi. Other previous teammates from King's career in Europe include Ed Jones, Daniil Kvyat, Harry Tincknell and Antonio Giovinazzi.

What objectively was his best race?
His 11th place finish at Toronto after he started eighth but between qualifying and the race he hit the barrier in the morning warm-up and he came back and got a respectable result.

What subjectively was his best race?
Similar to Max Chilton, when you do not have a top ten finish it is hard to take many positives. He went from 25th to 13th at Sonoma. That's good, not great, but good.

What objectively was his worst race?
He finished 24th at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in a race where he had an incident in turn two that beached him in the gravel after starting fifth. It put him a lap down and he never recovered.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is a toss up between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and St. Petersburg. Jordan King made the first lead change of the season and he did it under green flag conditions! Let that sink in. Jordan King made the first pass for the lead in the 2018 IndyCar season. He started fourth in the season opener and was leading. He took the lead from Robert Wickens. Then he lost the lead, he smacked the barrier and that killed any hope of a good result on debut. He finished 21st.

Jordan King's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 22nd (175 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 10
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 13.181
Average Finish: 15.181

An Early Look Ahead
It feels like the season Zach Veach had was the one we expected Spencer Pigot to have in 2018. This was not the first full-time season Pigot needed or at least we hoped for. He was really inspiring in 2017 and the results that went against him last year were forgivable because of what he did in those races before things went wrong.

I think Pigot has something and Carpenter is keeping him for another year. It is easy to say this is the same thing that happened with Josef Newgarden. Newgarden's rookie season was not great. He didn't have a top ten finish but he had special moments. Pigot is getting time but results have to follow. There has to be an improvement and I am not sure Pigot has done enough that if Carpenter decided to move on after 2019 another team would take a shot on him.

I feel like every year I write something along the lines of "I don't know what Carpenter wants out of the road/street course driver" because I don't know what Carpenter wants out of the road/street course driver. He has run the gamut of drivers in that seat.

He had the veteran IndyCar driver and all-around talent in Mike Conway.

He brought in the European junior single-seater veteran that could not break into Formula One despite victories and beating other top drivers in Luca Filippi.

He hired an Indy Lights champion hoping to use this seat to get a full-time ride in Pigot

He hired a young European junior single-seater driver who was likely not going to make it to Formula One but is a good driver in King.

I think all Carpenter needs is an 18-year-old driver that finished fifth in a Formula Three series that featured fewer than eight cars and has a father with $650 million in the bank and has a connection to a human rights violation for a bingo.

Is King going to stay on for another partial season? Is Carpenter going to search for another driver who wants a yearlong audition?

The same way I keep writing about my uncertainty over what Carpenter wants from its road/street course driver I will keep writing that the best thing for this team might be a second full-time driver that can work with Pigot on a regular basis and compete for the championship. There are plenty of capable drivers out there and King might be it. King was quick. It was exciting to watch him because he was a wild card every week. He seemed like he was always going to make it out of the first round of qualifying and at that point you are a race contender. Unfortunately for King his qualifying pace never transferred over but we know he has it and if he can channel it in the race Ed Carpenter Racing might have a British-American duo that will shake up IndyCar.

A few years ago this team was competing for championships with Josef Newgarden. It has the capability to compete with the best in IndyCar but it has to make a few difficult decisions to reach that next level.