Column: After ‘Fast Ed” hustled Team Penske for Indy 500 pole, can he now do it for the win?

All photos courtesy IndyCar
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In a sense, Ed Carpenter could easily be described as the “Fast Eddie Felson” of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Felson was a pool hustler in the movies “The Hustler” (1961) and “The Color Of Money” (1986) – played both times by the late Paul Newman, who ironically in real life spent many years as co-owner of the very successful Newman-Haas Indy car team.

Much like Felson bending over a pool table, Carpenter just seems to have a knack of running the table at Indy.

By capturing the pole for next Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500, Carpenter has now won the pole for the biggest race in the world three of the last six years, and barely missed a fourth, starting second, last year.

Also, Felson … uh, err, Carpenter … is now only the 11th driver to win the pole three times in 500 history.

But that’s not all he wants to be known for.

“Obviously, I don’t want to just be considered a guy that can win poles here,” Carpenter said. “I think we always work hard on our race cars, but we really put in a lot of work this last week, especially with the weather approaching, not knowing how many days we were going to get.

“I truly am focused on the race, which we always are. I just keep getting in the situation where my team gives me really fast cars, and when you’re in a position to go compete for poles, it’s hard to not do it.”

Like Felson tapping easy marks, “Fast Ed” Carpenter hustled Team Penske off the pole — especially Simon Pagenaud, who looked like he’d win the pole — with his outstanding run, being the only driver to break the 230 mph mark (in the first of his four-lap qualifying effort) since practice for the 500 opened last week.

“We looked over everything from last night, made a few minor adjustments, and it came right to us,” Carpenter said.

While many felt the four-driver Penske juggernaut would grab the top four spots Sunday, Carpenter and his little team that could showed they have just as muscle and power to not only make the show – but yes, potentially win it.

Carpenter will start first, Spencer Pigot (in his first year with Ed Carpenter Racing) will start sixth and Danica Patrick, making the final start of her racing career, will start seventh.

That means that six of the first spots will be occupied by three ECR drivers and three Penske drivers (with Helio Castroneves making the fourth driver, who will start eighth).

And by no means count out Pigot or Patrick. If their boss falls short, they’ve shown both in practice and this weekend’s qualifying that have the equipment and the speed to not only challenge, but even overtake guys like Simon Pagenaud and Will Power on the front row, Josef Newgarden on the inside of Row 2 and Helio Castroneves in the middle of Row 3, right next to Patrick.

“I’m super proud of the team,” Carpenter said. “It’s one thing to build a fast car here. It’s a whole ‘nother to build three fast cars, especially one of them not being a full-time crew (Patrick’s team).

“So the effort the whole team put together to have everybody prepared and giving myself, Spencer, Danica all really good cars and equal chances to be in the Fast Nine and go compete for a pole, that’s all you can ask for as a driver and as a team owner. Really blessed to have great people in our organization.”

Carpenter’s son, Ryder, is as excited as his father was for winning the pole for next Sunday’s Indy 500. (Photo: IndyCar)

What’s more, let’s look back over the last couple of years of the 500. The underdog won both times: Alexander Rossi in 2016 and Takuma Sato in 2017. Why can’t Carpenter extend that run?

Ironically, while this is Carpenter’s third Indy 500 pole in the last six years, it’s only the fourth overall pole of his 15-year IndyCar racing career. The other pole was at Kentucky Speedway back in 2010.

Carpenter has focused solely on ovals like Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the last six years. Racing on tracks like IMS, Phoenix, Texas, Iowa, Pocono, Gateway and Fontana just seem to play to his sweet spot as a driver.

The 37-year-old Carpenter has made 171 career starts in his career, with three wins (Kentucky 2011, Fontana 2012 and Texas 2014) and seven overall podium finishes.

But the Indianapolis native is still chasing the biggest win of all: at his hometown track. He used to go to the 500 as a kid, dreaming of someday racing there.

Next Sunday will be his 15th career start in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. To date, his best finish has been fifth in 2008, along with two other top-10s (eighth in 2009 and 10th in 2013).

“You think about (winning Indy) a lot,” Carpenter said. “I’ve been around here long enough, different things happen. You never know how many more opportunities you’re going to get.

“I’ve been in this position three times now. ’13 we didn’t really manage the race, and our strategy going into it wasn’t as strong as it could have been, being in that position for the first time. We came back in 2014, ran a really strong race up until the point that we weren’t in the race anymore and were really well positioned for the last 20- some laps.

Carpenter gets a big hug from teammate Danica Patrick.

“2015 was just a bad year for us. We didn’t have our stuff together. As you see, Indy can do that to you. It’s never automatic. It takes hard work and things change year after year. History shows that even the best of teams have tough days here. ’16 we had good cars, just can’t remember, I had something happen in that race. Something.

“But just hoping that things go well for all 500 miles. We certainly have a car that’s fast enough to run up front, and the way it’s been driving all week, I feel like we have a good enough handling car on long runs to be in a good position to be a factor if we can go out and execute on a sound strategy.”

If he can find the same strategy or formula to win that he used to capture the pole, “Fast Ed” could not only finally realize his childhood dream of winning at IMS, he’d also out-hustle Team Penske once again – which would be like two wins in one.

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NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”