The last few runnings of the Indianapolis 500 have been characterized by the manufacturer aero kits’ ability to create a slingshot effect that made leading a less preferred option. With the new universal bodywork, the racing at the 102nd running took on a different complexion that seemed to suit pole sitter Ed Carpenter.
The Verizon IndyCar Series’ only owner-driver showed what his comparatively little team could do at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month, with all three of its cars starting inside the first three rows and Carpenter himself coming close to earning his first victory after starting from pole.
Judging from the available evidence, the new car wasn’t the easiest to drive on the superspeedway that’s hosted 500-mile races 102 times. Veterans crashed just as easily as those newer to the Speedway, including Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais and Sage Karam. Even Ed Carpenter Racing’s own Danica Patrick found the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier after what was an otherwise successful return to IndyCar in the month of May.
For drivers like Carpenter who revel in wrangling a misbehaving car, Sunday’s race had all the elements of a barnburner.
“I like the way it drives,” said Carpenter after his second-place finish. “It’s definitely challenging to the driver.
“I like it when it’s hard. That’s why I was hoping it was going to be hot today because it makes things even more difficult.”
In comparing the current iteration of the Dallara IR-12 that the series currently uses with the previous version shod with manufacturer-specific bodywork, Carpenter noted that the old aero kits tended to equalize the field.
“The old car, if you had a really good car, you couldn’t really get rewarded by getting away or getting separation,” said Carpenter. “I think if you have a good enough car, you’re rewarded by being able to get away a little bit.”
Through his first stint, Carpenter was able to do just that when he built up a gap of 2.6 seconds to second-place Simon Pagenaud by Lap 23. After his first pit stop, he was able to perform similarly against Tony Kanaan with a 1.9-second advantage on Lap 45.
Despite his success with the new car and nearly winning his first Indy 500, Carpenter admitted that the new kit might have made it too difficult to get close.
“I do think we need to maybe make little improvements just because it’s so hard in dirty air to do much, to even have a better finish at the end,” said Carpenter.
At the white flag, Carpenter trailed winner Will Power by 2.7 seconds and had faded back to 3.2 seconds 2.5 miles later.
Knowing that the current aero kit will be with IndyCar through at least 2021 and a new engine formula is set to debut that year, Carpenter remained impressed with the car’s performance not just at Indianapolis but over the course of its debut season thus far.
“All in all, for this new kit, it’s performed so well all year,” said Carpenter. “Like every iteration of cars, the longer we have them, the better they’ll get. So, yeah, it’s a good day.”
As an oval-only driver, the No. 20 ECR Chevrolet with Carpenter behind the wheel will be in action next at Texas Motor Speedway for the DXC Technology 600 on June 9.