Skip to content

Indianapolis 500 polesitter Ed Carpenter is better than you think

May 20, 2013, 4:00 PM EST

Indianapolis 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

Throughout his career, Ed Carpenter probably has been derided more than any other male driver in IndyCar racing. And that’s a damn shame.

Carpenter’s a throwback in the modern IndyCar series. He’s a pure bred oval racer, born and raised on the dirt tracks of Indianapolis. A true Hoosier, he’s a Butler graduate with a marketing degree and about as popular within the confines of Marion County as the Indiana Pacers – which are generating a mass number of headlines and attention given their into the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

Had he been born maybe four or five years earlier, Carpenter could have been a champion in the then-all oval Indy Racing League. He made his debut in the championship in 2003 with the small-budget PDM Racing squad for a handful of events, then moved to Red Bull Cheever Racing in 2004 where he struggled.

Come 2005, when his stepfather Tony George created Vision Racing to ensure Ed still had a seat, the die was cast against him. George, of course, created the Indy Racing League and the civil war that followed from 1996 was – and still is – damning to open-wheel racing.

Carpenter’s first few years occurred when there was an influx of teams from CART and Champ Car entering the IRL, and road and street course racing made its first appearance on an IRL schedule.

He’s never been great at road and street course racing, but from where he started in 2005, he’s come a substantial way. Context is important because now, Carpenter may only be about 1 to 1.5 seconds off the pace at the front of the field. But whereas 10 or 12 years ago that time would have been good enough for say, anywhere from 10th to 15th on the grid, that now is 23rd to 25th because the field, in spec chassis, is so close.

The steps Carpenter has taken to improve include adding a driver coach in Lee Bentham, a former Atlantic Series champion who never had his shot at the big time. Bentham has witnessed a change in aggression and style. More importantly, although Carpenter isn’t as fast as the leaders on road and street courses, he does his best to get out of the way and not interfere with their running.

When it comes to ovals, you can’t deny Carpenter is currently one of IndyCar’s best. He excelled in the admittedly dangerous “pack racing” era with lower horsepower and higher downforce cars, and took a popular first win at Kentucky in 2011 when he edged Dario Franchitti.

Yet last year, when the formula changed and the series took downforce out of the car to make them more difficult to drive, Carpenter adapted just fine. He drove through the field at Indianapolis and Texas although his results didn’t reflect his runs. Then he concluded the season with another win at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway.

Since 2008, the year of open-wheel unification, only a handful of races have been won by teams outside the series’ acknowledged “Big Three” teams of Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti. In that time Carpenter, believe it or not, is second only to Justin Wilson in terms of victories (Wilson has three, two with Dale Coyne Racing and the last for the late Paul Newman and Carl Haas).

Carpenter’s race craft at Indy is such that he knows how to bide his time and enter into a position to win in the waning stages of the race.

His pole on Saturday was certainly popular in Indianapolis, if not nationally, yet. And come Sunday, you can be sure Carpenter and the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing entry will be in contention until the very end.

Is he ever going to be a world-beater on road and street courses? Almost certainly not. But as observers, we at least owe him the credit of being one of IndyCar’s best on the ovals, and not dismissing him given his family tree.

Latest Posts
  1. Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Friday

    Feb 27, 2015, 3:30 PM EST

    Vettel 272 Getty Images

    All of the latest news, reports and features from the paddock in Barcelona.

  2. Ganassi set to honor heroes at Indy Honor Flight event this weekend

    Feb 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    CGRRolex15win AP

    Indy Honor Flight event to be held at CGR shop in Indianapolis on Saturday.

  3. Massa calls for perspective on Alonso crash

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    Mideast Emirates F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Massa says that the main thing is that Alonso is okay and unhurt following his hefty crash in testing last week.

  4. Verstappen pleased with testing pace, new upgrades

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Verstappen 272a Getty Images

    17-year-old has just one day of testing left before making his F1 debut in Australia.

  5. MRTI: Aitken, Jamin emerge as last-minute Cooper Tires Winterfest champions

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:30 PM EST

    Photo: USF2000 Photo: USF2000

    Champions emerge on in a cold finale to 2015 Cooper Tires Winterfest.

  6. Hulkenberg: Gap to field will become clear in Melbourne

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:15 PM EST

    HulkPorsche2 Getty Images

    First run for the VJM08 was “remarkable”, but there is still plenty to be caught up with at Force India.

  7. Rosberg struggling with setup despite posting fastest time in Barcelona

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    Nico Rosberg AP

    German driver not happy with the setup on his W06 Hybrid despite posting the fastest time of winter testing so far in Barcelona.

  8. Rosberg quickest as Mercedes shows its hand on day two

    Feb 27, 2015, 12:01 PM EST

    F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day Two Getty Images

    The German team finally goes quickest in testing, sending a statement of intent out to the rest of the field.

  9. F1 cars to be fitted with high-speed cameras from 2016 to aid accident analysis and investigations

    Feb 27, 2015, 11:00 AM EST

    AUTO-PRIX-BRA-F1-RACE Getty Images

    F1 Commission agrees on changes for 2016 season in a bid to help aid investigations into accidents.

  10. Alexander Rossi confirms return to GP2 in 2015 with Racing Engineering

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:32 AM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Practice Getty Images

    American driver secures a seat in GP2 after a turbulent 2014 campaign.

  11. FIA issues updated F1 entry list including “Manor Marussia”

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:17 AM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Previews Getty Images

    FIA confirms that Manor Marussia does have a place on the grid in 2015, relying it complies with the new technical regulations.

  12. Force India VJM08 breaks cover in Barcelona

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    © Force India © Force India

    26 days after the rest of the F1 field, Force India gets its 2015 car out on track for the first time.

  13. Fernando Alonso thanks fans for support following crash

    Feb 27, 2015, 7:41 AM EST

    AUTO-F1-ESP-TEST-MCLAREN Getty Images

    Spaniard posts a video on YouTube giving an update on his condition.

  14. Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Thursday

    Feb 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    Kvyat 262 Getty Images

    Massa flourishes, McLaren and Mercedes flounder, and Ferrari goes all 50 Shades of Rosso Corsa…

  15. Massa: Williams improving, but still trailing Mercedes

    Feb 26, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    AUTO-F1-ESP-TEST-WILLIAMS Getty Images

    Brazilian driver still believes that Mercedes has the best car in F1 this year.

  16. Hamilton loses afternoon running due to MGU-K failure

    Feb 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Hamilton 262a Getty Images

    Briton still manages to finish third on Thursday, but is limited to just 48 laps following the power unit issue.

  17. Sainz Jr. pleased with Toro Rosso upgrades in final test

    Feb 26, 2015, 1:45 PM EST

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-ESP-TEST Getty Images

    F1 rookie happy with the final raft of updates on the STR10 ahead of the first race of the year in Australia.

  18. Carmen Jorda joins Lotus F1 Team as development driver

    Feb 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    © Lotus F1 Team © Lotus F1 Team

    Spanish racer will get a chance to test the E23 Hybrid out on track at least once in 2015.

  19. Massa fastest for Williams as final F1 pre-season test begins

    Feb 26, 2015, 12:01 PM EST

    Massa 262 Getty Images

    Brazilian driver posts the fastest time of testing so far; underpins pace with mighty haul of laps.