Wednesday, October 9, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Ed Carpenter Racing's 2019 Season

The third IndyCar team review will be Ed Carpenter Racing. There were few good days and a handful of nondescript days for the organization. The team continues to search for an identity post-Josef Newgarden and the search will continue into 2020.

Things remained the same for Spencer Pigot in 2019
Spencer Pigot
Pigot got his second full season in 2019 and things remained kind of the same. For a moment, it was looking like Pigot would be Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter only for him to start on the front row. Outside of that, Pigot had the same number of top five finishes as 2018, the same number of top ten finishes as 2018 and he finished in the same championship position.

What objectively was his best race?
Pigot had a pair of fifth place finishes this season, the first coming in the wet-to-dry-to-wet Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the rain-delayed, Saturday-into-Sunday race at Iowa. Let's just say if it rains it is going to be a good day for Pigot.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Iowa because Pigot was heading forward in each stint. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis was more a thing of good fortune with timing of pit stops, cautions and the weather but he restarted second on the final restart and fell back. Pigot kept going forward at Iowa and if he had started 15th instead of 19th he may have won. That is a stretch but in the last two Iowa races he had gone from 18th to second and 19th to fifth. It is bound to click for him at that track.

What objectively was his worst race?
Pigot had two finishes of 21st, in the second Belle Isle race and at Gateway, both crashes. At Belle Isle, it was out of Pigot's hand as he was hit from behind entering the pit lane when Sébastien Bourdais was trying to make a pass on another car. At Gateway, he lost on his own in turn four.

What subjectively was his worst race?
The second Belle Isle race was a bit of bummer because Pigot started in the top ten but I am going to list two other races: Barber and the Indianapolis 500.

At Barber, Pigot started sixth, it was the first time he made it to the Fast Six in his IndyCar career. He was in contention for a top ten finish and he lost it because of an unsafe release penalty on his final pit stop. This dropped him to a 17th place finish.

At Indianapolis, Pigot started on the front row and he spent much of the race in the top ten. He never appeared to be a threat to Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi or Josef Newgarden but he was looking to be the best ECR finisher. Instead, he had yet to make his final pit stop before the Graham Rahal-Sébastien Bourdais caution. He made his final stop under yellow and was shuffled down the order. He went from a top ten to a 14th place finish. Not a bad day, in fact it is Pigot's best finish in the Indianapolis 500 and it was the first time he completed all 500 miles but it could have been better.

Spencer Pigot's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 14th (335 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 4
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 12.438
Average Finish: 14.118

Through three seasons, Ed Jones is still looking for a permanent place to land
Ed Jones
This was Jones' third team in three seasons and it did not have the same luster as when he was a rookie with Dale Coyne Racing nor in his sophomore season with Chip Ganassi Racing.

What objectively was his best race?
Like his teammate Pigot, Jones' best finish came in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and it was a day where Jones spent majority of the race in the top ten and came home with a sixth place finish. He lost fifth place late to Pigot.

What subjectively was his best race?
I am going to say the Grand Prix of Indianapolis because no other races stand out. I will mention the Indianapolis 500 because Jones entered the ECR fold and showed this team has speed regardless of the driver. Jones qualified fourth but he didn't have the pace over 500 miles and faded to a 13th place finish.

What objectively was his worst race?
Jones' worst result was 23rd at Laguna Seca. The Santino Ferrucci incident with Takuma Sato forced Jones off course and into the dirt. He returned to the circuit but he had to make a pit stop. Jones ran a few more laps but the suspension damage was too great for him to make the finish and his season ended early.

Two other races should be noted: Jones was 22nd at Road America. Contact sent Jones off course early and sent him down the order. He could not regain the time and he finished a lap down. To add insult to injury, Jones started the race in 11th.

He did retire at St. Petersburg after hitting the barrier exiting turn seven and it classified him in 21st.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I want to say the Indianapolis 500 because Jones show great pace throughout practice and qualifying only to fade and not be a factor. I expected that to happen. We see plenty of drivers at Indianapolis be able to put together great qualifying pace but not have it over 500 miles.

There were a lot of disappointing races for Jones this year and I don't think it was all on him. He and Pigot were both in position for top ten finishes at Toronto and then the two cars made contact in turn four and neither finished in the top ten. He could not find the qualifying pace and it put him behind the eight ball on most occasions.

Ed Jones's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 20th (217 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led:
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14.077
Average Finish: 15.923

Ed Carpenter was solid but the season feels unfulfilled
Ed Carpenter
It was the sixth time Carpenter ran only the oval races on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series calendar and it was a good year, on standard with last year's results. However, when you are only running five races a year, you need to be better than good.

What objectively was his best race?
Carpenter was runner-up at Gateway in a photo finish was Takuma Sato. Carpenter benefitted from not making his final pit stop before Sébastien Bourdais brought out the caution for a spin exiting turn four. He restarted third and he had great pace over the long run. It allowed him to get pass Tony Kanaan and he was chasing Sato in the closing laps. If the race was 249 laps and 248 laps, Carpenter would have likely won his first race in five years.

What subjectively was his best race?
The Indianapolis 500. Carpenter was at the front for most of this race but unlike 2018 where Carpenter led and lost it to Power, he paced himself and ran behind the leaders. He didn't want to take the point and burn more fuel. He was conserving his fuel in the draft but he lost ground to Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden and didn't have anything to challenge Simon Pagenaud.

What objectively was his worst race?
Nineteen at Iowa after a spin exiting turn two.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is Iowa because he was going to the front with Pigot. He was fighting for a top five result at the time of that spin.

Carpenter had a strong year, finishes of second, sixth and sixth at Gateway, Indianapolis and Pocono respectively. He seemed to be lost at Texas but this incident at Iowa was the one blemish on his season.

Ed Carpenter's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 23rd (161)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 7
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 12.25
Average Finish: 9.2

An Early Look Ahead
It is not clear whether or not Pigot will return or if Jones will remain in the #20 Chevrolet on road and street courses.

This team has taken a step back from the years of Josef Newgarden carrying the team into the championship fight. It still has the potential on ovals but it has been five years since Ed Carpenter won on an oval. The team has lost road course pace.

I cannot see Pigot leaving although his seat is not necessarily secure because of sponsorship. ECR is not working with Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka money like it once did. Autogeek has picked up the slack but this is IndyCar, sponsors come and go and drivers go with them. We have not seen Pigot have that breakthrough that we saw with Newgarden in the third and fourth year of his career. He has good days but he has yet to have a great day. This is the team in need of a great day.

It really is a team that is set up for drivers entering the series. A young driver can jump into the #20 Chevrolet and get a dozen races. The #20 Chevrolet has had five different drivers split that car with Ed Carpenter over the six seasons Carpenter has focused on ovals. It started with Mike Conway and since the car has had Luca Filippi, Pigot for two seasons, Jordan King and Jones share the seat.

History points to a new driver being in that seat for 2020. It is not that Jones did a poor job but Jones may want more after having run full-time in the first two years of his career. Carpenter might want new talent and use the #20 seat as an audition for a potential replacement for Pigot in the #21 Chevrolet. It may come down to funding and the driver with the biggest check and competency will be the man or woman chosen.

Out of the four full-time Chevrolet teams, ECR is still number two. The problem is the team has fallen off significantly to Team Penske and Carlin is poised to jump up from third. I think we all want ECR to succeed because we want every IndyCar team to be a contender. It was not long ago this team was fighting with the big boys every week and produced a championship contender in the season finale. It is far from where it once was and the team has yet to find what it takes to get back to the front.