Indianapolis 500 - Qualifying

Indianapolis 500 polesitter Ed Carpenter is better than you think


Throughout his career, Ed Carpenter probably has been derided more than any other male driver in IndyCar racing. And that’s a damn shame.

Carpenter’s a throwback in the modern IndyCar series. He’s a pure bred oval racer, born and raised on the dirt tracks of Indianapolis. A true Hoosier, he’s a Butler graduate with a marketing degree and about as popular within the confines of Marion County as the Indiana Pacers – which are generating a mass number of headlines and attention given their into the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

Had he been born maybe four or five years earlier, Carpenter could have been a champion in the then-all oval Indy Racing League. He made his debut in the championship in 2003 with the small-budget PDM Racing squad for a handful of events, then moved to Red Bull Cheever Racing in 2004 where he struggled.

Come 2005, when his stepfather Tony George created Vision Racing to ensure Ed still had a seat, the die was cast against him. George, of course, created the Indy Racing League and the civil war that followed from 1996 was – and still is – damning to open-wheel racing.

Carpenter’s first few years occurred when there was an influx of teams from CART and Champ Car entering the IRL, and road and street course racing made its first appearance on an IRL schedule.

He’s never been great at road and street course racing, but from where he started in 2005, he’s come a substantial way. Context is important because now, Carpenter may only be about 1 to 1.5 seconds off the pace at the front of the field. But whereas 10 or 12 years ago that time would have been good enough for say, anywhere from 10th to 15th on the grid, that now is 23rd to 25th because the field, in spec chassis, is so close.

The steps Carpenter has taken to improve include adding a driver coach in Lee Bentham, a former Atlantic Series champion who never had his shot at the big time. Bentham has witnessed a change in aggression and style. More importantly, although Carpenter isn’t as fast as the leaders on road and street courses, he does his best to get out of the way and not interfere with their running.

When it comes to ovals, you can’t deny Carpenter is currently one of IndyCar’s best. He excelled in the admittedly dangerous “pack racing” era with lower horsepower and higher downforce cars, and took a popular first win at Kentucky in 2011 when he edged Dario Franchitti.

Yet last year, when the formula changed and the series took downforce out of the car to make them more difficult to drive, Carpenter adapted just fine. He drove through the field at Indianapolis and Texas although his results didn’t reflect his runs. Then he concluded the season with another win at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway.

Since 2008, the year of open-wheel unification, only a handful of races have been won by teams outside the series’ acknowledged “Big Three” teams of Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti. In that time Carpenter, believe it or not, is second only to Justin Wilson in terms of victories (Wilson has three, two with Dale Coyne Racing and the last for the late Paul Newman and Carl Haas).

Carpenter’s race craft at Indy is such that he knows how to bide his time and enter into a position to win in the waning stages of the race.

His pole on Saturday was certainly popular in Indianapolis, if not nationally, yet. And come Sunday, you can be sure Carpenter and the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing entry will be in contention until the very end.

Is he ever going to be a world-beater on road and street courses? Almost certainly not. But as observers, we at least owe him the credit of being one of IndyCar’s best on the ovals, and not dismissing him given his family tree.

Mansell: Button, Alonso must keep faith in McLaren

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Former F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell of Great Britain talks to the media during previews ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2014 in Northampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Former Formula 1 and CART champion Nigel Mansell has urged Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso to keep faith in McLaren-Honda while the team goes through the “growing pains” of a new partnership.

Button and Alonso have both won world titles in the past, but neither have been able to even dream of a similar success in 2015 as the new Honda power unit has limited the team to just 17 points in total from the first 14 races.

Both drivers are set to remain with the team for 2016, but speculation about their future has been rife as a result of Honda’s struggles which even prompted Alonso to publicly vent his frustration over the radio in last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Mansell urged both drivers to keep faith in the McLaren-Honda project, believing that it could yet make big strides forward ahead of the 2016 season.

“Jenson deserves an opportunity to see if they can compete and win next year,” Mansell said. “I think this winter Honda can make a breakthrough and McLaren will be working so, so hard.

“They are a fantastic team. They’ve won so much in the past and, to use [McLaren Group CEO] Ron Dennis’s words, they will win again in the future. I have no doubt about that.”

Mansell himself walked away from McLaren after just two races in 1995, its first season with Mercedes engines. After winning the CART title in 1993, Mansell enjoyed four races with Williams in F1 the following year before joining McLaren for the 1995 season.

After missing the first two races of the year due to the car being too narrow, Mansell took part in the San Marino and Spanish Grands Prix before walking away from McLaren due to the car’s lack of pace.

The Briton hinted at his own regrets when discussing the matter, and wished McLaren the very best in its bid to get back to the front of the field.

“Between Alonso and Jenson they will be a formidable team, given the car and the engine to do the job,” Mansell said. “When you go through the growing pains, and I’ve been there a few times myself, stay the course because they could have the best team and best engine.

“They’ll have some really serious regrets if Honda get it right after they’ve gone somewhere else. Hopefully within 12 months they’ll be singing the praises of the team and Honda. I sincerely hope they’ll be winning races in a year’s time.”

WRC: Latvala claims third win of 2015 in France

AJACCIO, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:  Jari Matti Latvala of Finland and Mikka Anttila of Finland celebrate their victory during Day Three of the WRC France on October 4, 2015 in Ajaccio, France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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Jari-Matti Latvala fought back to claim his third win of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship season, beating Elfyn Evans after the Briton threatened to claim an unlikely victory in France.

For the first time since 2008, the Rally de France took place on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, but was hit by heavy rain and flooding that caused two of the stages to be cancelled.

Championship winner Sebastien Ogier and former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica shared the early lead of the rally, but both dropped back due to technical problems.

Evans emerged as the leader after stage three on Friday, enjoying an advantage of 22 seconds over Latvala. However, the Volkswagen driver managed to reel the Briton in and take the lead after stage six before keeping his rivals at bay over the remainder of the rally.

Despite only finishing third on the final power stage, Latvala claimed his third win of the season ahead of Evans by 43 seconds.

“We’ve not had to push to the maximum at any point, but it was a faultless drive in difficult conditions,” Latvala said. “After winning last year, I have now done it again in Corsica and it’s important for me to show I can be competitive on all surfaces.”

Evans managed to hold on to second place by 3.2 seconds to record his career-best finish, while Andreas Mikkelsen rounded out the podium in third place.

Although neither Ogier nor Kubica could finish in the points, both salvaged something from the weekend by coming first and second respectively in the power stage.

The WRC returns in three weeks’ time for Rally de Catalunya in Spain, which is the penultimate round of the 2015 season.