With Indy pole captured, Carpenter sets sights on bigger prize

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Since he was a little boy, Ed Carpenter — Indianapolis native, Butler University graduate, and stepson of IZOD IndyCar Series founder Tony George — has known how important the Indianapolis 500 is. Perhaps that is why he’s taking his pole position for the 97th running in stride, instead focusing on what lies ahead next weekend.

“This is a good start,” said Carpenter, who shocked the high-powered Team Penske and Andretti Autosport teams to win the pole with a four-lap average of 228.762 miles per hour. “I want to make sure to keep the team focused because I hope this is Part One of a really magical month. We’re here for Race Day.

“This is awesome and it’s bigger than our [race] wins, and it’s huge for the team…It’s definitely a landmark day. But I don’t want to get overly focused on this, because we have a lot of work to do yet.”

Carpenter, the owner of his own single-car squad, delivered a victory for the little guys this afternoon and will get to enjoy a week’s worth of bragging rights, 15 championship points, and an extra $100,000 — which is always nice to come across when you’re in his position. But while he considers it, in his words, “an honor” to win a pole at Indianapolis, he knows very well that people only remember who wins the race at the Brickyard.

He’ll think about today’s accomplishment, but just a little. Then he’ll think about how to get an even bigger accomplishment next Sunday.

“I love the race a whole lot more than qualifying, and I really want to send a message and make sure I lead by example for the team and make sure we don’t forget why we’re really here,” he said. “This is fun and huge for our team — I don’t want to think that it’s not — but the pole won’t mean much if we don’t go out and perform on Race Day.”

A race victory would be a culmination of sorts for Carpenter, who grew up racing midget cars before migrating over to open-wheel formula racing. In his early years in IndyCar, he was sometimes mocked as a driver that was only in the sport because of his family connections. But as time went by, he began to earn a solid level of respect and wins at Kentucky in 2011 and Fontana in 2012 cemented him as one of the best oval racers in the paddock.

Now, Carpenter has the opportunity to make his biggest dream come true in front of his hometown fans, who let him know just how much they appreciated his efforts by loudly cheering him on in the Fast Nine and at the end when he had the pole sewn up.

“It gives you confidence knowing that people are behind you,” he said.

Schmidt Peterson confirms all-Canadian lineup of Hinchcliffe, Wickens

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The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is going for a diet of denim, maple syrup, pace and politeness in its 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup, with an all-Canadian pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens confirmed for next season.

Hinchcliffe was known to want a driver of Wickens’ caliber alongside him in the second seat after three less-than-fruitful seasons with James Jakes (2015), Mikhail Aleshin (2016) and a combination of drivers (Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Harvey) rotated through the second car the last three years.

Recent changes have brought them to this point and now leads them to becoming full-time teammates for the first time in a decade, since the defunct country-focused A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008.

Hinchcliffe has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson after three seasons with the team. His first was shortened due to his near life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident in practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500. A rapid and welcome recovery followed throughout the second half of 2015 before his comeback to action in 2016, with an Indianapolis 500 pole and a couple near-misses on wins that followed. In 2017, he won Round 2 at Long Beach but faltered in the second half of the year through a litany of mechanical woes and bad luck.

Wickens, meanwhile, faced an uncertain future when Mercedes-Benz announced earlier this year it would withdraw from DTM at the end of 2018. One of Hinchcliffe’s long-time friends, Wickens hasn’t raced full-time in North America in more than a decade since they were both in Formula Atlantic in 2007, at separate teams (Wickens at Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe at Sierra Sierra Enterprises). As he pursued his Formula 1 dream and had a wealth of success in the junior series, he never got a proper shot, and has since gone onto several successful years with Mercedes in DTM.

A ride-swap between the two of them came together earlier this year where Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring’s short course, while Hinchcliffe then flew to Italy to sample Wickens’ Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM after the St. Petersburg season opener. Hinchcliffe ended 13th in points in IndyCar, Wickens ninth in DTM this year, both with one win each during the year. Wickens also had a Friday to sample the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Road America this year, but had to relinquish the seat once Aleshin returned from a visa issue.

“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” said Hinchcliffe.

“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.

“I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the SPM organization, from having Robbie here to the team’s new partnership with Honda and the 2018 aero kit; I just can’t wait to get back on track and bring some good results home for the Arrow Electronics crew.”

Wickens added: “This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me.

“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about.

“I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”