Despite what seemed to be a devastating blow suffered last week when co-owner Wink Hartman withdrew his funding from the now Ed Carpenter Racing team for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series, team owner and two-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ed Carpenter says that the word “setback” is far from the appropriate term to describe the prospects for his operation entering the new season, which begins next month on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
“I don’t think it was a setback,” said Carpenter during IndyCar media day festivities on Tuesday. “That’s where I think there’s some misconception. The announcement that you’re changing names seems dramatic, like there’s a whole lot going on.”
If anything says the Indianapolis-native, things for the now Ed Carpenter Racing have remained relatively unchanged since the 2015 campaign ended with the checkered flag at the Grand Prix on Sonoma and preparations for the new year have been largely uninterrupted.
“The reality is our off-season started after Sonoma was over. Our preparation for this year started (then). It’s been continuous and ongoing and very productive,” explained Carpenter. “We changed names, but everything going on in the race shop, employees, preparation, plan, it’s been ongoing. Changing logos around. Key positions, management, structure, for the most part it’s the same.”
If it is indeed more of the same for this squad, the rivals on the full time IndyCar tour may become wary of what heights fifth-year veteran driver Josef Newgarden could attain in 2016. The driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet earned his first two career victories last season, whilst finishing a career-high seventh on the season points table.
“As the season went on, (Josef) came into his own and was more consistent whether we were at a short oval, speedway, road course, or street circuit. He had speed and raced well everywhere.” said Carpenter on his teammate on the ovals. “He is one of the few guys in the series that has the versatility as a driver and the pace on all circuits to be able to contend for a championship.”
The Tennessee-native is equally eager for the new year and to become a consistent championship contender and race winner.
“The cool thing for me I’ve gotten so much more relaxed each year I’ve done IndyCar,” admitted Newgarden on Tuesday. “I feel really good about where we’re at. If we can keep continuing what we did last year, that’s where we’re at right now, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Although a series title is certainly high on the list of desired achievements for the new year, the target for ECR and Carpenter as a driver himself has remained unchanged, since the operation made their debut on the IndyCar circuit in 2011: to claim a win in the Indianapolis 500.
“The Indianapolis 500 every year is the highlight of my racing professional season,” said the 12-time Indy starter, who placed fifth at the Speedway in 2008. “Every year we’ve been here, we’ve had competitive situations. We’re getting better and closer on figuring out how to win the race.”
His teammate Newgarden feels similar in the desire to add his own visage to the famous Borg-Warner Trophy this upcoming May.
” I think we all feel the same way about (the Indy 500). You want to win it regardless of the year. It doesn’t matter.” admitted the four-time Indy runner, who finished a career best ninth in 2015. “If you win it, there might be some more magnitude to it. But either way, you win the Indianapolis 500, we all feel similar about it.”
Newgarden also admitted during media day on Tuesday, that if him or any of the other IndyCar young guns managed to win this year’s event, it could be the big breakthrough toward IndyCar racing possibly making a trend toward the recent so-called glory days of the sport prior to its severing in 1996.
“I think (we) can make a difference for sure,” explained Newgarden. “How impactful that’s going to be, I don’t think we can answer that. For sure it’s part of the equation. All of us need to be succeeding and we’re all getting there and doing that.”
With questions about the future for Newgarden secured for at least 2016, unknown characteristics are still out there for other facets of ECR entering the new racing year. Chief among them is whether the No. 20 entry, which team boss Carpenter will run exclusively on oval tracks once again this year, will be utilized at all sixteen events? Italian Luca Filippi drove the No. 20 Chevrolet on the road and street circuits for the team a season ago and could be called upon again in 2016.
“We’re looking at all scenarios.” said Carpenter relating to the non-oval rounds. “I talk to Luca and his management team frequently. I wouldn’t say that’s off the table. It’s trying to find the right deal and a deal that we all feel comfortable with. We’ll see what happens.”
Another question mark extends to the month of May and whether ECR will enter an extra car for the Indianapolis 500-mile race for the third straight year. The last two seasons have seen 2011 Indy 500 rookie of the year and runner-up J.R. Hildebrand drive the Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet at the Brickyard, however Carpenter says for now the focus is not on this possible asset or lack of it.
“At this point we’re planning on running two cars (for Newgarden and himself).” Carpenter stated on Tuesday. “Things can always change. But until they do change, I’m not really totally focusing on that..”
Clearly the focus for both Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden is on the up for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series and despite believed signs of disaster ahead, the targeted goals appear to have been extended for the new year rather than rescinded. Whether those targets will hit the bulls-eye for the new campaign however, remain to be seen.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for further news, updates, and opinions from the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Road to the 100th Indianapolis 500, presented by Penn Grade Motor Oil.