New bonus prize available for IndyCar doubleheaders

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A new partnership between IndyCar and Germany-based car care company SONAX has led to a special award that will be up for grabs during the doubleheader weekends at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit (pictured, June 1-2), Honda Indy Toronto (July 13-14), and Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston (Oct. 5-6).

The “SONAX Perfect Finish Award” will pay $50,000 to the driver that wins both feature races during any of those three weekends. But should no one be able to win both races in those weekends, the prize will carry over to the next doubleheader. If no one sweeps at Detroit, the bonus will jump to $100,000 at Toronto, and if no one sweeps there, the bonus goes to $150,000 at Houston.

Talk from drivers and team owners has been generally mixed regarding the doubleheader format — some of it optimistic about providing a better fan experience, some of it critical about the increased demands it will place on teams. But a chance at a substantial bit of cold, hard cash ought to help.

SONAX is also planning to utilize show car and driver appearances at select Sam’s Club outlets starting at the Indianapolis 500, and also work with venues on creating “car corrals” during event weekends to draw in automotive enthusiasts and collectors.

The company is already involved in motorsports as an official supplier for Formula One champs Red Bull Racing, and its brand can also be spotted on the No. 20 Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter. Carpenter’s step-father and series founder Tony George (now a co-owner at Ed Carpenter Racing) holds their American distribution rights.

In addition to backing the doubleheader award, SONAX will now become the series’ “Official Automotive Detail Partner.”

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.