Graham Rahal’s first full-time season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan has not gone like some expected it to go. He achieved a podium finish at Long Beach back in April, but with four finishes outside the Top-20 and a 17th-place standing in the championship, 2013 has not been a stellar campaign so far for the second-generation competitor.
But Rahal earned a boost of confidence yesterday during the heat races that set the field for today’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway. He only posted the 19th-quickest time in single-car qualifying, which meant a starting position of seventh in Heat No. 2. But with only 50 laps to work with, Rahal was able to move through the field and seal a win with a high-line pass of Ed Carpenter with three laps left.
“I’m very proud of the guys because we’ve been working hard,” Rahal said after Heat No. 2. “It just hasn’t been the easiest of years for us. But to get a result like this, even though it’s just a heat, it means a lot to us.”
Rahal transferred over to Heat No. 3 as a result, where he finished ninth after contact with Carpenter early on damaged his front wing and created handling issues on his No. 15 RLL Honda.
That finish means he’ll start on the outside of Row 4 for today’s 250-lap race (his best start of the season), and after a decent Saturday on the Iowa bullring, he may have some much-needed momentum going into today’s main event.
“We really, really felt the car was very competitive [in Heat No. 2] and were able to charge through the field which not a lot of the guys were seemingly able to do,” he said. “And again in the second heat race, I think we could have won it. I think we had the car but unfortunately, Ed and I bumped and we lost four percent front COP [center of pressure], so the car didn’t want to turn.
“The fact that we could still run high 18’s [18-second lap time] without a front wing is pretty impressive, so I’m pleased with the car. I think it’s going to be pretty good.”
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.