2017 Report Card: Ed Carpenter Racing
Entering the new year, it was clear that Ed Carpenter Racing; the quintessential “home” team of the Verizon IndyCar Series was going to take steps backward.
They had just lost the services of top American prospect Josef Newgarden to Team Penske and also saw one of their top engineers go elsewhere during the offseason. Without the Tennessean at the helm, ECR elected to stay in-house by signing Indy 500-specialist J.R. Hildebrand to a full-season contract and also grabbed 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Spencer Pigot to replace the team owner in the road and street course events.
While the team was expected to make in-roads on the ovals, there was a surprise when early in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, Pigot managed to make significant progress in the first stint. Unfortunately, a mechanical failure during the opening round of pit stops forced the Californian to retire. The did not finish posting was ironically a tell of the remainder of their 2017 campaign.
No. 20 Ed Carpenter (Ovals Only)
Outside of taking the top seed in pre-qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500, the Indiana-native endured a brutal 2017 slate. His seventh-place effort at Phoenix International Raceway in April would stand as his best performance of the year. After fading from contention around the 200-mile mark at the Brickyard, where he came home 11th, the 36-year-old became an also-ran in his final four acts, failing to make the checkered flag in two of them. While the home-court advantage keeps him at least relevant at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a significant bounce back in the other oval outings is required to maintain his stance as a threat to find victory lane in 2018.
No. 20 Spencer Pigot (Road Courses, Drove for Juncos Racing at Indy 500)
Pigot’s resume for his second year in IndyCar can be summed up in one account: his pace far exceeded the results. The American prospect kept ECR somewhat in the game early in 2017, posting top-tens in three of his first four starts. Following the Indy 500 however, the squad’s efforts began to go in reverse, and Pigot’s outputs suffered. Being unable to avoid elimination in the opening phase of qualifying marred him toward the back of the starting grid and the needed breaks to make off-sequence pit stop plans jump in their favor failed to come to fruition. For 2018, Pigot joins the full-time fleet for the first time, but still with some unknowns to deal with. The sophomore has only two oval track appearances on his scorecard, yet he did manage a decent 18th-place showing at this year’s Indy 500, which sounds better than advertised considering he drove for series newcomers Juncos Racing. If improvements are made in the technical department, the new No. 21 Chevrolet group can shoot for the top half of the points table in the new year.
No. 21 J.R. Hildebrand (Full-Season)
Simply put, despite facing a four-year layoff concerning full-season action, Hildebrand had to deliver results to keep this seat for more than a single run of the calendar. Safe to say, that did not happen. While the oval track favorite, managed to take runner-up honors at Iowa Speedway and a third-place trophy at Phoenix, he needed to provide a competitive nature outside of the left-hand turn only venues. A 13th-place in the season opener at St. Pete, matched by the same placement at Toronto was unable to provide any confidence that ECR could maintain a threatening presence for the upper half of the order. As a result, Hildebrand is without a ride for 2018, likely meaning a return to a one-shot opportunity at the Brickyard, a role he handled solidly for ECR between 2013 and 2016. If funds allow for a third car at Indy, watch out for a darkhorse challenge to emulate.
The key is being able to cut breakthrough the wall that is blocking them in the non-oval events. While a return to its run of success with Mike Conway as a specialist is probably not in the crystal ball for the new year, the ability to salvage top-tens and an occasional top-five can only build its momentum when the IndyCars return to the team’s calling card of tracks.
FINAL GRADE: C-
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