With Roger Penske’s experience and budget, you always expect The Captain to be up front at Indianapolis. But the story of qualifying this month was Ed Carpenter Racing.
And, yes, we always expect Carpenter to have a good starting spot each May because he’s one of the best oval racers in the series. But what his team accomplished in the past week was damn impressive.
Ed snared the third pole position of his career by 1mph over Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, and threw down the only 230 mph lap of the weekend in his Fuzzy’s Chevy.
That brought the fans to their feet at IMS, but almost as cheer-worthy were the performances of Spencer Pigot and Danica Patrick.
Pigot qualified sixth and Patrick seventh in the other two ECR entries as the little team blew away Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing. Yes, having the Chevy engine certainly helped, but the overall effort and package merited an extra big thumbs-up from the team.
“I’m as proud of what this team did as I am winning the pole,” said Carpenter on Monday morning in Gasoline Alley. “It’s one thing to build one fast car here and it’s a whole other to build three fast cars, especially with one of them not being a full-time crew.
“Tim [Broyles, team manager] and all the crew prepared great cars for myself, Spencer and Danica, and equal chances to be in the Fast 9. That’s all you can ask for as a driver and a team owner.
Patrick hadn’t been in an IndyCar for seven years so getting the right team for her finale was very important.
“I pretty much worked out the deal myself and called Ed and told him how much I wanted to do it [Indy], and he already knew that,” said the 36-year-old veteran who has finished third, fourth and sixth during her previous seven starts. “I just knew it was going to be a good car and that’s what mattered to me.”
“Ed has put together an incredible team of really good people and I’m very grateful.”
Despite her long absence, Patrick immediately got comfortable, thanks in part to veteran engineer Don Halliday.
“I thought Don would be perfect because he’s so even-keeled and he’s been great,” said Carpenter. “And so has Danica’s team.”
When Ed hired Pigot to be the full-time driver of his No.21 car, he put his longtime engineer Matt Barnes with the former Indy Lights champion, who has shown flashes of brilliance the past couple years but is still looking for that breakthrough performance.
“I have improved massively from every other time I’ve run this race and I’m excited about our potential this Sunday,” said Pigot, who started 29th in his previous Indy starts. “ECR has done a great job this year and it’s great to be part of this team.”
Carpenter hired Allen McDonald, who engineered Dario Franchitti’s Indy win in 2007 and Alex Tagliani’s Indy pole in 2011.
“I think Allen and I started clicking after the Phoenix test and he’s been a great addition,” said Carpenter.
It was a popular pole for the Butler University grad, who has two personas according to his wife, Heather. “There’s Driver Ed and there’s Owner Ed, and it’s two different people,” she said with a smile.
But Carpenter has been able to concentrate on driving this month because everything is under control at ECR.
“The beauty is I don’t have to worry about it,” he said. “The team put up a sign at the beginning of May that said you’re not the boss anymore. And I adhere to the rules. So I’m here to drive race cars. And I can’t wait until Sunday.”