Great Friday for RLL’s Conway in Long Beach

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Mike Conway’s first day back in IndyCar with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing couldn’t have gone much better.

The Englishman, driving the No. 17 blu eCigs Dallara-Honda as the third RLL entry, was second in both sessions and thus second fastest on the day behind Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Conway observed a solid grip level from this year’s Firestone street course tires thus far, compared to 2012’s.

“Generally the grip feels very good this weekend,” he said. “We are yet to try the reds of course and there are some differences, and we’ll have to adjust for that.”

Immediately he has begun to gel with the rest of the RLL squad, teammates Graham Rahal and James Jakes and their engineers Gerry Hughes and Eddie Jones, respectively.

“It’s great to have, as even just after first session we were close,” said Conway. “We have different styles per corner. Graham is good in 1-2, James in other corners, and we really push off each other and learn.”

For now the race is a one-off with RLL, but Conway is optimistic of other races that don’t conflict with his FIA World Endurance Championship schedule. Conway races an LMP2 class Oreca 03 Nissan for the G-Drive by Delta-ADR squad.

“I think it’s possible; we just have to work on this weekend first, and get a good result,” he said. “WEC is all confirmed and is going ahead. There are races we can do – I think the rest of street courses at least – as I think there is only one conflict.”

Indeed, the only potential conflict between WEC and an IndyCar street race is the weekend of August 31 and Sept. 1. WEC races in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with IndyCar in Baltimore.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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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.