INDYCAR continues our celebration of the 12 days of Christmas with 12 of the most memorable storylines from the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Ed Carpenter was on a mission entering the new season. As a winner during Ed Carpenter Racing’s first year of operation, his tight-knit outfit ended 2012 on a high after capturing the championship finale at Auto Club speedway, but the best ECR could manage in 2013 was pole position at the Indy 500 and a second-place finish at Fontana.
Returning to Victory Lane drove Carpenter to start from scratch in 2014, and after making a bold move to limit his driving to ovals and hire Mike Conway to take over the controls of the No. 20 Chevy on road and street courses, ECR was quickly transformed into a powerhouse organization.
“We didn’t win any races in ’13; the pole was our only success in that year after winning a race in our inaugural season in ’12, and we wanted to get back to winning races,” said Carpenter. “We were able to do that in this past year--to be able to win twice with Mike and one with me in Texas, and win another pole at Indy, it was a fun year.”
Carpenter’s progress as a road racer was impressive through 2013, but with his rivals carrying a lifetime of experience, the decision to split driving duties in the No. 20 with an ace like Conway became a topic of discussion earlier than some might have suspected.
“It started in 2013 in Houston, actually,” said ECR team manager Tim Broyles, who will oversee the new, combined Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing team next year. “We saw Mike and started the conversation rolling there. It was just a case of knowing Ed and his partners would do whatever it takes to put the race team first, a business decision, and we made as a group to move to the next step.”
A win by Conway at Long Beach opened the team’s account; Carpenter followed with his second consecutive pole for the “500,” then captured the victory at Texas, and Conway triumphed at the second round in Toronto to cap ECR’s third win in a span of four months. Even with their repeat visits to Victory Lane, Carpenter knows his team could have added a fourth or fifth victory to their tally.
“Looking back, there were a lot of positives and in the middle of it we felt like we let some get away in there too where it could’ve been better,” he said. “But without dwelling on the negatives, it was still a great year.”
Carpenter and Broyles assembled a team that punched above its weight during its first three seasons, and from the outside looking in, ECR’s chemistry was the envy of many within the paddock.
“Looking back when the team was first put together, it was really about putting the best guys and the right personalities together,” Broyles explained. “You’ve got guys like Bret Schmitt, our crew chief, and Matt Barnes, who has done a fabulous job on the engineering side. We have always taken the approach of really working hard and chemistry and personality and meshing guys together, rather than just go off and grab the next available guy for said position.
“We really take into account how we think they’ll fit in with the core group. I think, obviously, it’s shown it can be working. They all fit, and everybody communicates well. We don’t have any egos, which makes it really enjoyable through all areas of the team.”
With CFH Racing, ECR and SFHR have partnered to form a two-car team that brings Josef Newgarden and the No. 67 Chevy program together with the No. 20 entry. Blending both crews, as Carpenter shares, has been a process where great care and effort to maintain chemistry has been at the core of all their decisions.
“That’s certainly one of the big challenges in the next year with the new team,” he noted. “It’s more people, more personalities, and ultimately, more talented people on the team. I think the culture has always been something that we focused heavily on. Having driven for Sarah’s team in 2011, they had a similar philosophy in that regard. I think with that it makes it less about the challenge, but ultimately we’ve had one test already with the two cars with the new team. For the first outing, I thought it went well.
“But certainly the biggest thing that we have to achieve is to be able to continue growing and maintaining the success that we’ve had. Getting the 67 back in the winner’s circle and getting Josef at his best level is part of the job, and I know we can do it. We have all the pieces, we just have to put it together properly to maximize the talent we have. We want more wins next year than we had this year, so we aren’t setting our expectations any lower.”