Josef Newgarden. Spencer Pigot. Zach Veach. Ed Jones. Rinus VeeKay. Now, Christian Rasmussen. They have something in common.
All six were drivers that Ed Carpenter Racing has given a chance to as younger drivers trying to find their place in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Some of those situations were different than others. Newgarden wasn’t a series rookie when he got to ECR. Still, for the most part, ECR’s philosophy is simple: In addition to finding the next potential champion, the team wanted to groom a young driver in his early years in the sport.
Newgarden won three races with Carpenter's team before moving to Team Penske, where he has won two series championships and this year's Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. VeeKay also has won a race with ECR and has qualified on the front row at the "500" each of the past three years.
Rasmussen, this year's INDY NXT by Firestone champion, will drive alongside VeeKay and Carpenter in 2024.
Team owner Ed Carpenter said Newgarden is the shining example of the team’s efforts, and he expects Rasmussen to be next in that pursuit.
“I think more than anything, we’ve had a decent amount of experience working with younger guys over that many years,” Carpenter said. “Josef (Newgarden) was definitely a standout. Our goal is to find talent and nurture it and keep it within our four walls, so to speak.”
Some teams aren’t equipped to handle that task. Bringing on a young driver without much, if any, INDYCAR experience is a difficult task. They’re raw. They’ve likely never done a full-blown pit stop before. They are still learning and their race craft. As a result of which, those drivers aren’t necessarily competing for podiums early on, which is why it takes a special place to hone those skills to allow them time to figure it all out.
As a team, ECR is well-structured to handle this. Team officials recognize they have to have the wherewithal to be able to withstand the learning curves and maximize the ability of a young driver while also giving them the tools to succeed.
Doing so in the fastest, most competitive form of motorsports is no small feat. It’s something ECR officials pride themselves on.
“I think our strategy has been to look for talent coming out of INDY NXT, versus maybe taking another approach, which we’ve done also, and going after veterans,” Carpenter said.
“There’s opportunity to get guys and help develop them, provide an environment that they want to be at. You’ve seen that with Rinus (VeeKay), where we’ve had to help the relationship and we’re through multiple contracts now, still building. That’s the long-term plan with Christian (Rasmussen), to have him reach his potential and us get stronger as a team, have all of us achieve our goals of winning Indy 500s and competing for championships.”
Carpenter said that he is very involved in that process of evaluating talent. He also has Lee Bentham who has been a driver coach with them from the day the team was formed as a part of that process too.
“It really comes down to just relationships and watching and meeting people and being advantageous,” Carpenter said.
“I wouldn’t say we have a formal structured program where that’s any one person’s sole duty; it’s not the way we’re structured. But, yeah, multiple people within our team are involved in that process.”
Carpenter, 42, was once one of those drivers. He came through USAC to this same INDY NXT by Firestone program. Now the veteran of 22 years is giving back to the same route through his own team.