Eight drivers – including three rookies prepping for this year’s Indianapolis 500 – took to Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday to acclimate themselves with the new aero package to the track and gain some valuable oval laps of testing.
A year ago (right), Texas ran a modified wing package and with reduced downforce, produced one of the most exciting races of the season. Now, the wing package for Texas is more in line with what was featured at Indianapolis and Fontana, IndyCar’s two longest ovals (2.5 and 2.0 miles).
“It’s a lot different (from a stock car to drive around TMS),” Team Penske’s AJ Allmendinger told IndyCar.com, after his latest IndyCar test after shifting back from NASCAR. “A little track knowledge (helps), and all these mile-and-a-half tracks a little different – they have their own character – so it’s good to know but it’s still different.”
Besides Allmendinger, full season rookie Tristan Vautier and Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz were on hand turning their first oval laps in the Dallara DW12 chassis.
Veterans on hand included Vautier’s teammate Simon Pagenaud, Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s pair of Graham Rahal and James Jakes, Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing), and Ed Carpenter (his own ECR team).
No speeds were listed for the private test, but a year ago the pole speed at Texas was 215.691 mph set by Alex Tagliani.
MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.
Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
- 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
- 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish
Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.
While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.
Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.
Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.
In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.