As the only “oval specialist” in the IndyCar field, Ed Carpenter is looking forward to a return engagement at Iowa, wakes up thinking about Indy and says IndyCar oval fans should not despair about momentary oval/non-oval imbalance.
Carpenter made the preseason media rounds in Newton and neighboring Des Moines in mid-March to promote the June 23 IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway (tickets here). Carpenter is the only current IndyCar driver who grew up racing ovals and in some ways Iowa Speedway is a Field of Unfinished Business.
Carpenter said moving Iowa from a Saturday night race in 2012 to a Sunday afternoon race this year will throw some wrinkles into the equation. Last year the cooler night air created more downforce, which Carpenter said helped make exciting racing. At Iowa and other ovals in 2012, IndyCar changed specifications to take downforce off the car with the goal of emphasizing driver skill and car control.
“I kind of found it ironic because the racing got better at night when we gained downforce,” said Carpenter. “There’s still that fine balance. If you are a little too light, as we were in the heat races at Iowa last year, it gets strung out and was very hard to pass. When the sun went down we got more grip and we put on a good show, so hopefully the show doesn’t suffer from running in the daytime. As long as we keep it in balance. It can’t be too hard. If you go the Team Penske route, which is take the wings off and give us 1000 horsepower; it will suck for the fans.”
One Year of Ownership
Carpenter said there were some moments, but his first full year as a team owner went “really well.”
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out managing everything,” he said. “(General Manager) Derrick (Walker) and (Team Manager) Tim Broyles did such a good job it really just let me focus on the things I need to. So, in-season, it’s kind of the same for me as a driver as it has always been. I don’t have the personality or management style that I’m not going to let those guys do their job. I’m not the person who is going to be a micromanager. If you were a micro managing type personality I think it would be impossible to do both.”
But does the pissed off boss Ed Carpenter ever come out?
“He showed up in May (2012) after I crashed in qualifying,” said Carpenter, “but other than I think I held myself in pretty good check. I don’t even remember what I said in that rage but it worked because the car was real good on race day.”
Eyes on the Prize
Given Carpenter’s background in ovals and his membership in The Family (the Hulman George family that owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), Carpenter naturally sees winning Indy as the Holy Grail.
“It’s definitely the main goal,” Carpenter said. “For us, obviously, the ovals are my strength so we try to play on our strengths while getting better where we need to improve too. We’re a small team, so we put a lot of our emphasis on that.” Carpenter has been in every Indy 500 since 2004. His best finish was 5th for Vision Racing, a team owned by his father, Tony George. In 2012 Carpenter made a late charge but a broken front wing adjuster caused his car to randomly change downforce eventually causing him to crash.
“During the race my engineer wanted to tell me what they knew (about the bad wing adjuster) and Derrick was like ‘Don’t tell him. Don’t tell him. He’s on the way to the front.’ It wouldn’t have mattered. It was not like we were going to try and stop and change a nose at that point.”
Getting the Second W
Carpenter finally broke a 100+ race winless streak in 2011 driving for Sarah Fisher Racing. Relive it …
“The first win was awesome,” Carpenter said. “One, I had been so close in Kentucky for a while. Andy and Sarah are great people who gave me a chance and to get our first win collectively was awesome.”
The second win -- at the 2012 season finale in Fontana -- was just as sweet, albeit for different reasons.
“To get a win with our won team was something in some ways more special than the first one,” said Carpenter.
As for the notion that a second win erases any allegations that the first one was a fluke, Carpenter said he’s never been overly concerned about such things. “I don’t think I needed validation by winning more. The fact is that I have won races two years in a row and there are a lot of people who haven’t done that driving for bigger teams than I have been driving for. It’s something I am proud of for sure. You just want to keep winning more at that point. The bar keeps getting higher. It’s a good thing.”
Carpenter is hardly a stranger to putting up with criticism. As the son of Tony George, he’s used to experiencing his family’s haters.
“With me being in the family there are always going to be people who, regardless of what I do, they will believe something else. So I guess I don’t really care. I’m pretty happy with the career I’ve had and continue to have and confident in my abilities. I think I am respected by the people need to be respected by.”
Given his oval-only background and recent wins, Carpenter makes a compelling poster boy for the More Ovals movement. He said he shares the desire to get to a 50/50 mix of ovals and non-ovals, but it’s not an easy task.
“I think everyone thinks that there needs to be and should be more ovals,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants us to have a whole season of road and street courses. I’ve always said, even as an oval guy, I’m ok with balance. I’m OK with there being an equal split. The key is getting to the right places and the right market and the right track that want to work with you. Iowa is a perfect example in my mind. They are a great track and they work with us and they are supportive and they have built a good event. You gotta go to good events whether it is oval or whatever. So I hope we can get more of those in place over time, but it is hard. With NASCAR owning so many tracks and not really promoting us all that well, it’s a big challenge.”
Carpenter said he’s encouraged that IndyCar/IMS leader Mark Miles will be up to the oval challenge, as well as all the others facing IndyCar.
“I really like him,” Carpenter said. “I’ve met with him quite a few times, privately and with owners and drivers, and he seems very smart. Seems like he’s going to be very strategic. I feel like we are in good hands with him at the wheel feel much more comfortable with his leadership abilities than with who we had before. It’s a good thing.”
For the 2013 IndyCar schedule, including links to purchase tickets at all venues, go here.
For more on Ed, visit Ed Carpenter Racing's website here.