Ed Carpenter Racing ‘crushing it’ at Indianapolis 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – With all three of its drivers starting in the top four positions of Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500 (11 am ET on NBC), Ed Carpenter Racing is proving to be one of the top Indy 500 teams in the field. The only other team with three drivers in the top 10 is Team Penske, including pole-sitter Simon Pagenaud, sixth-place starter and defending Indy 500 winner Will Power and NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden starting eighth.

Carpenter is the only owner/driver in the series and has already placed his name solidly in the history of the Indianapolis 500 as a three-time Indy 500 Pole Winner. Helio Castroneves has four Indy 500 Poles and Rick Mears is the all-time leader with six poles for the biggest event in racing.

Carpenter narrowly missed his fourth pole position in Sunday’s “Fast Nine Shootout” after completing a four-lap average of 229.889 miles per hour in the No. 20 Chevrolet. Pagenaud knocked him off with four laps that averaged 229.992 mph.

That is just .103 of a mile per hour that kept Carpenter from winning the pole. Broken down into time, it was a margin of just .700-of-a-second.

“Simon was just more consistent,” Carpenter said. “I think I had the fastest lap of qualifying and usually that’s a good sign for the pole, but I’ve also won a couple of my poles and not had the fastest lap. So, he was just a little more consistent than me, and that’s why he deserves to be on the pole.

“That’s the way this series is now,” Carpenter continued. “Everything is just thousandths and hundredths of a second all the way through. The battle that you saw for guys fighting for the 30th spot on Saturday, the ninth spot Saturday and now (Sunday) the strength of this series between the teams and drivers from top to bottom. You’ve got to be perfect to really put it together because if you’re not, everything is so tight you’re going to slide down, and that’s what’s great about being a part of the NTT IndyCar Series is it’s really the best competition in the world.”

Team Penske is celebrating its 50thAnniversary of its first Indianapolis 500 in 1969. Ed Carpenter Racing is in its seventh season.

Carpenter splits the driving duties of the No. 20 Chevrolet with Ed Jones of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Carpenter drives the ovals and Jones the street and road courses. Another driver on the team, Spencer Pigot, qualified third for the outside of Row 1 with a four-lap average of 229.826 mph. He was the fastest driver in Saturday’s first round of qualifications.

Jones is driving the No. 63 ECR entry in this year’s Indy 500 and qualified fourth at 229.646 mph over four laps.

“The strength of the team is what I’m most excited about,” Carpenter said. “To have Ed Carpenter Racing cars starting second, third and fourth I think just speaks volumes to the organization and all our people and effort that they put into building our cars and the consistency of all the equipment is something I’m really personally proud of.

“On Sunday, Spencer was doing a rain dance, I was wanting to run. I really wish one of us would have ended up on pole, but I’m still really happy to be 2, 3 and 4. I think it’s amazing, and Simon just put in a really excellent run with his car, so consistent. I couldn’t believe how consistent it was. So, congrats to him.”

Carpenter has built his race team with a core group of employees. It may be one of the most efficient teams in the series when it comes to resources.

“It really has just been a constant process,” Carpenter told NBC Sports.com. “Derrick Walker helped us kind of lay the foundations for the team that first year, and the key players in the team from Tim Broyles, Matt Barnes, Brett Schmidt, many others that have been there with us from the very beginning. I should throw in Colleen (Dallenbach-Howerton) as well.

“We’ve been able to add quality people, and I think we’ve established a good culture and have a group that likes working together and is committed to the same thing. And we’ve had a great partner in Chevrolet, which also helps, and we just try to get better every year.”

Carpenter has been very competitive in the Indianapolis 500, but despite his three starts from the pole, he has never won the race. He came close last year when he led the most laps in the race with 65 but finished second to race-winner Power.

“I try not to look back too much other than to learn from mistakes and figure out how to do things better,” Carpenter said. “I’m really just looking forward and trying to make the best decisions we can and prepare the best we can. I think that’s the important thing, in how you get better, if you just reflect on all your misses and get discouraged by that, it’s probably not the best mindset.

“We’ve got a lot of great experience and we’ve been getting closer and better, and hopefully, we’ll be able to put it together on Sunday for one of our cars.”

When Carpenter was a youngster, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was his playground. His mother, Laura, is married to IMS Chairman of the Board, Tony George, whose family owns the Speedway and INDYCAR.

Carpenter began his racing career in the United States Auto Club and earned his way into the series through Indy Lights. He was an Indy 500 rookie in 2004 when he drove for team owner Eddie Cheever and will make his 16thIndy 500 start on Sunday.

On the track, Carpenter is a three-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner.

The race he really covets is the Indy 500, but he will already go down in history as one of the greatest Indy 500 qualifying drivers in the history of the Indianapolis 500.

“I’ll let you all decide that,” the modest Carpenter said. “I’m proud of the effort and the consistency we’ve had. I’m really maintaining focus on figuring out a way to win this race. That’s the most important thing to me.

“One of the blessings of qualifying well here is we get a good starting spot. The negative is people ask me all the time, ‘Hey, are you going to win the pole again this year?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, that would be nice, but I really want to win the race.’

“That’s the goal.

“I don’t want people to think all I come to do here is qualify because that’s definitely not the focus. And that’s why I’m so proud of the team because I really think that obviously we have to go out and do a good job and put in four good laps, but the speed comes from the work the team does and the preparation, especially to have all of our cars so close.

“That’s for them, and hopefully, the race will be for one of us.”

Alexander Rossi remains the story in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”