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Carpenter Building Good Things On/Off Track

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2018

IndyCar Series team owner/driver Ed Carpenter is a busy man these days. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Up every day at 6 a.m. and off to bed by 10 p.m. In between, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ only owner/driver has figured out a formula for mixing fast cars with an energetic family.

“Time management is crucial,” said Ed Carpenter, namesake of the Indianapolis-based organization whose official titles include daddy. “Outside of driving and running the team we have three young kids who have their own busy schedules. The biggest thing for me is I’ve got a great group of people who have been with us since the start of the team in management. They allow me to focus on being a driver.”

An oval-track specialist, Carpenter will be in the cockpit of the No. 20 Chevrolet Friday for practice and qualifying leading into the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.  Saturday’s edition of “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” will be Carpenter’s first event since he qualified on-pole at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 102nd running of the Indy 500 en route to a second-place finish to Team Penske’s Will Power on May 27.

“There’s not much time to do unscheduled things,” said Carpenter, whose racing family features fulltime driver Spencer Pigot and road-racing ringer Jordan King. Brett Knostman is crew chief for Carpenter and King, while Jeff Fredrick serves in that role for Pigot. Tim Broyles is ECR’s general manager on a staff that includes chief mechanic Bret Schmitt.

Carpenter’s real-life family with wife Heather is centered around children Makenna, Ryder and Cruz.

“I get plenty of sleep,” Carpenter assured Dallas-Fort Worth media during a recent teleconference. “It’s all just in planning and managing time. There’s been lot of people in this situation. The majority of INDYCAR team-owners were drivers at some point, and some were owner/drivers.”

Carpenter’s oval-only schedule limits his seat-time to six races, not including two qualifying days leading into the Indy 500. Englishman King drives the No. 20 Chevrolet during the series’ road and street-course events while Pigot has been elevated to fulltime duty in the No. 21 Chevy.

Carpenter drove the full 2012 and 2013 seasons in his own car, scoring his first win as owner/driver at Auto Club Speedway’s 2-mile oval in Fontana, Calif. He followed that with back-to-back poles at IMS in 2013 and 2014. Carpenter shifted his focus exclusively to ovals in 2014, when he hired Englishman Mike Conway to compete in the series’ street and road-course events. ECR won three races in 2014 _ Ed’s victory at TMS and Conway on the Streets of Long Beach and the second Toronto doubleheader street race.

ECR combined with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for 2015, forming a two-car effort known as CFH Racing. Fulltime driver Josef Newgarden scored three victories in those two seasons, including leading teammate Luca Filippi to the team’s first 1-2 finish. Newgarden exited the team as a free agent after the 2016 season, signed-on with Team Penske and went on to win the 2017 series championship.

“There’s days when I wish I was racing more,” said Carpenter, a 37-year-old native and resident of Indianapolis. “I’ve been in those roles_ racing ovals-only since 2014 and have been a team-owner since 2012. I‘ve got a lot on my plate beyond driving.”

Carpenter won the first Indy Lights race at IMS, the 2003 Freedom 100. But he has rationalized his decision to eschew running the full Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

“I came from an oval background and the chances of me wining an overall championship were pretty small because of our schedule and how many races (are non-oval),” said Carpenter, who graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis and proudly is featured in the school’s advertising campaign. “As the owner of Ed Carpenter Racing, I wasn’t going to be competing for wins like I would on ovals, so it made sense to put someone else in our car. We’re still fighting for the championship in owner points.

“I view it as a way to make our team and our brand stronger and compete for more wins. It gave the team an opportunity to win more races than I was going to give them.”

Carpenter co-owns the team with stepfather Tony George _ the Hulman-George family owns and operates IMS _ and partner Stuart Reed. George, of course, also founded the Indy Racing League, which broke away from the Championship Auto Racing Teams beginning with the 1996 season in a bid to preserve the history and traditions of the Indy 500. The IRL eventually prevailed over the reconstituted Champ Car World Series to emerge as the current Verizon IndyCar Series.

Carpenter’s INDYCAR career began with a three-race stint with PDM Racing in 2003, followed by a full season in 2004 with Red Bull Cheever Racing. From 2005 to 2009, Ed drove for Vision Racing, the team founded by George. Carpenter made four starts in 2010 for Panther Racing/Vision Racing, earning his first career pole at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway.

Carpenter began racing Quarter Midgets at age 8 and is the last driver to reach the highest level of domestic open-wheel racing via the rough-and-tumble world of U.S. Auto Club-sanctioned Midgets, Sprint Car and Silver Crown machines.

Ed scored his first series win in October 2011 at Kentucky Speedway driving for Sarah Fisher Racing. He posted his second victory in the season-finale at Auto Club Speedway under the ECR banner. His third victory and second as owner/driver was posted in the 2014 Firestone 600 on TMS’ warp-speed-fast 1.5-mile oval.

“Ovals always have been my strong suit; it’s a unique suit and at this point it feels pretty natural,” said Carpenter, who spent last weekend as strategist/spectator during the annual Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader around The Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

“I don’t view it as losing anything,” Carpenter said. “It’s a pretty tough stretch we’re in right now with a month at Indy and two races in Detroit, then head back home for a quick turnaround for Texas. Everyone’s pretty tired by the end of Indy. I don’t think I’m at any disadvantage not being in the car. Indy’s unique, Detroit’s a tough doubleheader and as a driver maybe I’m able to shift my focus to Texas a little earlier. When the checkered fell at Detroit, we were getting ready for Texas and hopefully we’ll have the same type of speed we had at Indy.”

Carpenter claimed his third Indy 500 pole last month via a four-lap/10-mile average of 229.618 mph around the 2.5-mile oval. Power handed team-owner Roger Penske his record 17th Indy 500 victory over Carpenter after 200 laps by 3.1589-seconds. Carpenter barely was consoled by the fact he led a race-high 65 laps or scored his career-best Indy 500 finish.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s what makes me…I think when I look back that’s probably where I’ll feel really good about it,” Carpenter said. “We were strong just about every day, with all our cars, held that level of consistency and performance throughout the month. Hopefully this is going to be a springboard to help the team make some strong finishes, win some races.”

Carpenter’s 2014 win at TMS was by a margin of 0.5247-seconds over Power. A caution with seven laps remaining erased Carpenter’s 18-second lead and forced drivers to make a decision on whether to pit or stay out on older, worn Firestone rubber. The top three drivers _ Carpenter, Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan, then of Chip Ganassi  Racing _ all stayed out. A strong restart was all Carpenter needed as he held off Power in an event that saw Ed lead 90 of the career 92 laps he has paced in Cowtown.

Anytime you’ve had success at a racetrack and know what it takes to win there makes it easy to recapture that,” said Carpenter, who has made 172 career series starts. “Compared to the early Indy car days at Texas, we’ve had to deal with a lot more tire dropoff and you do not necessarily have to be the fastest. But if you’re the fastest on a 50-lap run you’re going to be successful.”

Last year, Carpenter and teammate JR Hildebrand were involved in a massive, nine-car crash here heading into Turn 3. The incident prompted a red flag stoppage on Lap 152 and cleanup took 30 minutes, 42 seconds.

The incident was triggered by contact principally involving James Hinchcliffe, who was sandwiched between then-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Mikhail Aleshin on the outside and Kanaan on the bottom. Hinchcliffe’s car darted right and up the 24-degree banking, collecting the cars of Carpenter and Hildebrand, Dale Coyne Racing’s Tristan Vautier and Ed Jones, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and Carlos Munoz of A.J. Foyt Racing.

Hinchcliffe placed the blame squarely on Kanaan _ the 2004 winner here _ moments after team-owner Ganassi defended his driver and questioned Hinchcliffe’s in-race judgment.

That race was the first open-wheel event run on TMS’ repaved and reconfigured 1.5-mile oval. In addition to fresh pavement that included pit road, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and the bottom widened from 60 to 80-feet. Turns 3 and 4 remained banked at 24 degrees. Firestone Racing addressed the changes with a revised compound that met with mixed reaction.

It definitely made the race interesting last year with all of us getting used to the new configuration,” said Carpenter, who officially was placed 11th in a 22-car field after 248 laps. “It was a Texas-style race that we got caught up in an accident with Tony (and Hinch).

“We need exciting racing like that was, where it gets out of control sometime. If INDYCAR Race Control had called some blocking penalties (earlier in the night) it would have eliminated some of those lapses in judgment and how they were throwing their cars around. Tony is a pro and I’m sure he made some of the decisions he made because it took him out, too. We can race close and hard like that but we’ve got to respect each other more on track than we did last year.

“We’ve had good cars at Texas. This year will be a little bit of a curveball again…we have a new aero configuration.”

Saturday night’s race will be the first run with sanctioning body INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal chassis built by Dallara. Carpenter said the downforce configuration at TMS will be similar to the one run at Indy.

“I don’t think it’s going to be quite as easy to run packed up because we do have less downforce,” Carpenter said. “We haven’t run at night in this configuration and really don’t know. I’m sure the second lane will still be there and anything with two lanes allows us to be more competitive. We’ve raced at  Texas with so many types of configurations and they’ve all been exciting. I’m confident it’ll be an exciting evening.

“I’ve tested twice at Texas and I think we have a better feel for how we can work with this new car. ”Texas never disappoints with the Indy car race. I’m thankful it’s going to be a night race so we get some reprieve from the heat. Looking forward another strong weekend.”

Cars powered by Chevrolet’s 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 dominated qualifying at IMS and the Indy 500. However, the Honda camp swept both poles on the 2.35-mile/14-turn Belle Isle Park layout, where Dixon and Hunter-Reay scored 70-lap wins in the shadow of the GM Renaissance Center downtown.

“The beauty of INDYCAR racing is you can watch Indy and say Chevy is a lot better than Honda,” Carpenter said. “And with the type of tracks we race on, at Detroit Honda looks as dominant. Coming back to Texas, I think it’s going to suit the Chevrolet.

“When you talk about the power band…Detroit is busy with no long straights. The acceleration and that type of engine suits the way that engine is designed. Chevy makes really good top-end power and speed…and it’s hard to get it perfect everywhere.  I know that Chevy will be better at the next place like Detroit because the engineers don’t like getting beat by those guys. It’s really goes to the uniqueness of INDYCAR.’”

Saturday’s DXC Technology 600 will air live at 8 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.  

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2018
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