One of the more notable offseason stories in a relatively long winter for the Verizon IndyCar Series was the re-rebranding of Ed Carpenter Racing back to ECR after its now sole year as CFH Racing in 2015.
Fortunately for its lone full-season driver, Josef Newgarden, preparations didn’t change even if the team name did.
Newgarden, now 25 and going into his fifth full-time season in the series, will not have Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman present as he did for the first four.
The combination of Carpenter, Fisher and Hartman last year brought Carpenter to Newgarden for the first time and allowed the two to build chemistry on their own.
As Fisher and Hartman are out from the ownership structure this year, Newgarden is pressing ahead as planned under the revised ECR banner.
“Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to get too involved in the ownership side,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “The core group of people hasn’t really changed.
“Yeah, I haven’t dived into it much. Luckily, I didn’t have to. It was more on the business side, and regarding the team’s business. But it won’t affect me massively from a driving standpoint.”
Newgarden’s new strategist is yet to be determined with Andy O’Gara also out of the team, but the crew led by engineer Jeremy Milless will stay primarily intact.
One of the variables that remain to be sorted for Newgarden and ECR, less than a month before the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, is whether he’ll have a full-time teammate for a second straight year.
After three years on a single-car team, Newgarden had either Carpenter (ovals) or Luca Filippi (road and street courses) available at his disposal as a teammate last year. Both drivers provided invaluable feedback.
Heading into 2016 though, while Carpenter and the team have stated the intention of the No. 20 car continuing on road and street courses, no driver has been named for those 11 rounds.
“The teammate thing is interesting, being able to compare it to single car in the past,” Newgarden explained. “Between the two of either single car or multiple cars, there’s positive and negatives to both.
“With two cars, you always have something to look at. There’s always something to learn. The case with Luca was he was very talented, and there was always something I learned over a weekend. The same was true for Ed. There was always something I’d learn on an oval weekend.
“It could have been a difference in driving styles, preference on setup; it was always nice to have a different to look at. You have to rely on what you need. It was nice having the option of a different approach. It brought fresh perspective.”
The one confirmed bit of freshness for Newgarden this year is a new number, 21, and new support from Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka for the opening few races. Remaining commercial partners are to be determined.
“Yeah it’s perfect. I’m not really a numbers guy… I’m not superstitious. But I won the Formula Ford Festival in 2008 in number 21. I’ve run it before and it’s been good to me. I’ll run any number on the car. It certainly ties in well with a premium vodka.
“I don’t drink often… or at all. But if I did, I would be drinking Fuzzy’s Vodka.”