Ed Carpenter Racing has a ton of confidence heading into this weekend’s doubleheader on the streets of Belle Isle. That’s because they had built up a ton of momentum during the Month of May with Conor Daly earning a Fast Six appearance in the GMR Grand Prix, then Rinus VeeKay giving them their first win since 2016 in that very race a day later. A week after that, VeeKay stormed to a front row starting spot for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
VeeKay, was joined by boss Ed Carpenter up front for the start of the race with Carpenter qualifying his No. 20 Chevrolet in fourth. During the race, ECR looked good for most of it. Daly was in the top five by the end of the first pit sequence and quickly bolted to the lead not long after.
Daly, led the most laps in the race. VeeKay, was strong all the way through while Carpenter was the top finisher for them in fifth. If not for strategy, VeeKay likely was going to finish in the top three that day. If not for an errant tire that fell off Graham Rahal’s car after a pit stop, Daly was also likely going for a top three too, if not a victory. Both of their cars were just that good that day.
Overall, ECR had three cars capable of top five finishes. That comes after a win a few weeks earlier. The cars are strong at ECR and going to Belle Isle brings them momentum.
A big part of that is the continuity of this team. This is the first time in the 10 year history of ECR that the driver lineup remained in tact from the year before. Even the crew members are the same. That’s a big reason as to why ECR is vastly improved from last year to this.
“I think it’s helped us a lot,” Ed Carpenter said to me at Indy with having continuity within the team this year. “It’s the first time in the history of our company where we’ve had the exact same lineup back for a second year from everyone of our cars. I think it’s just allowed the team to focus more on what we need to do to be successful and especially be consistent from week to week.
“We’re all going back to these venues together for the second consecutive year. We’re building off of something vs. getting to know one another or a new driver getting to learn our cars over the course of the schedule. I think it’s been very important to helping everyone work more closely and more efficiently.”
“I think for years I’ve been talking about creating continuity,” he said. “I think we see right now what continuity is doing for this whole group, both Rinus and I. We get better. Your goal as a driver is to improve constantly, work with your team to just keep building that pyramid up, keep going.
“Rinus is doing that. I think I’m doing that. I don’t think we’ve been able to obviously translate to results yet for several things that have been out of our control obviously. But we’re in the fight rather than a lot of the races last year we were nowhere even near the talk of anything. But now we’re putting ourselves up there.
“I think it just takes time for me, for sure. I think this car, without a doubt, has been very, very challenging for me to get to grips with with all the new additions from 2020 with the aeroscreen and everything like that. But we are getting there, I think. We want to continue to be able to use that information, continue to be able to work with our engineers here, to be fighting in the top 10 every single weekend, but not only there, fighting for the Fast Six qualifying sports, fighting for wins. Rinus has a win now. I also want to be joining him in that category.”
Daly says that the continuity is helping him get comfortable in these cars at ECR too as they’re starting to identify areas to where they can work on to help him out further.
“Yeah, for me, it has been the difference in the balance between the car on the primary tire to the red tire,” said Daly. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to narrow that gap between how the car feels when we change tires and race pace.
“I think race pace-wise our car on heavy fuel has been a challenge for me. I think we’ve been narrowing that gap. I think we’ve been getting better in race pace conditions.
“But, yeah, the car does a lot of things. Instead of just one problem, there’s three problems handling-wise. As a driver, it becomes difficult. There’s a lot of information coming in when you go through the entry phase of the corner, the center of the corner, the exit of the corner. Instead of having one problem, we have apex understeer, you could be loose in, apex understeer, loose off. You’re like, Well, all right, we got a lot of things to fix.
“It’s a matter of just narrowing things down and finding a better window of operation. The car has a very narrow window right now. I think we see that a lot. The entire field is within 8/10ths of a second. That narrow window it’s like 2/10ths or 3/10ths of a second. If you’re on the right side of those two 10ths, that’s the goal.
“Yeah, it’s just been tough for us to kind of narrow that window down but I think we’re definitely getting there.”
The guy knows how to drive race cars. If he can find that full comfort and the luck would change, he’d be right there battling it out for wins on a weekly basis. He had no where to go when he was involved in that first lap crash in Texas 2. He was involved in another first lap incident in the GMR Grand Prix. He had a car to win the Indy 500 but a fluke tire fell basically out of the sky and into the front of his No. 47 Chevrolet. If he can ever shed this luck, watch out.
“I think really nothing surprises me any more,” he said. “I would say that would probably be the top thing on the list.
“I mean, I’ve learned a lot about myself I guess. I think I’ve also tried to do a lot of work on my own brain, which I think has been helpful because a lot of the stuff, when you look at a year going into it, none of this crazy stuff is going to happen, it’s just going to be great, every race is going to be great.
“All this crazy stuff has happened, and you can’t change your attitude. You have to go into Detroit, It’s going to be great, it’s going to be perfect, we’re going to execute.
“But the crazy part about racing is there are so many of those factors that are outside your control. I think without a doubt our sport is leaps and bounds above any other sport when it comes to other things that affect the athlete or the pilot of the vehicle, right?
“The NBA Finals, if you’re not shooting the ball right, guess what, you’re not going to score points, not going to win the game. If I’m having my best day, get hit by something in the sky, I don’t know, something happens.
“We’re just going to keep going at it every weekend, trying to be the best we can be. I feel really good about myself and my team, yeah. That’s the goal, is to just be happy and be ready to execute every weekend.”
Plus, we’re now going to a spot to where Daly’s had a lot of success in. In six Belle Isle starts, he has three top six finishes. He’s done so with three different teams.
“It’s one of my favorite tracks, even 2015 there in the Arrow machine for Hinch after he had the mix-up with the wall at Indy. That was one of my most fun weekends, still to this day,” Daly said. “In the rain, leading the race there up against those guys as a complete and utter rookie. I love the track. Love the race weekend. I think it’s done so well.
“Especially we’re a Chevy team, so very excited to be in the backyard there, which is really, really cool. It’s weird to think it was so long ago since I raced there. There’s a couple other places we’re going to go this year that are probably the same way.
“It’s going to be cool to get back there and let her rip, see what we can do. Hopefully the stuff we learned from the Indy GP, the progress we made with our car carries over to Detroit.”
The other thing is that ECR while they’ve made some gains, their street course program has been lagging lately. In 2016, Josef Newgarden finished fourth for the team at Belle Isle. In 18 street course races since, they’ve not had a single top five finish on them. They’ve only had five top 10’s in that span too.
24 times between two drivers each year on them, they’ve finished 15th or worse on these tracks. The last two years, we’ve only been to St. Pete. Daly, was 17th last October there and 16th this past April. VeeKay, was 15th and ninth respectively himself.
Can they improve this weekend? The proof is in the pudding so far that they’re ascending in all areas.
“Realistically I think leaps and bounds,” Daly said of the improvement of the team from 2020 to 2021. “Massive, massive amounts of progress. Certainly for me personally because I kind of know, obviously not going to give away everything we’re doing, but I know that Rinus and I drive different cars, very different cars. A lot of the times we just haven’t been able to get what I needed out of it. It’s much easier for Rinus. He’s obviously very, very quick, very, very talented. His operational window I think for getting the best out of the car is a little bit wider than mine. There’s no denying that.
“But what we found at the Indy GP, I think we were able to do a great job in executing and qualifying. I think we still have a lot to learn because that was obviously my first Fast Six. I think there’s a way we can improve our running there if we make it there again.
“Yeah, obviously we had a great race pace, too. Even after our car, we figured it out, got back on track a million laps down, we were pretty quick honestly. We knew we could compete race pace-wise as well. Now the matter is getting through the first corner. That would be lovely. Then just continuing on from there, seeing what we can do.”
Nevertheless, Daly is ready to show what he can do and he has the continuity now of knowing that he’s racing the next six races on the season with ECR. His next Carlin opportunity won’t come until the race at World Wide Technology Raceway in late August. This is the best he’s felt heading into a race weekend since the 2019 Indy 500.
“I mean, I always try to be confident,” he told me on Tuesday afternoon. “I think there’s a lot higher energy now because of all the kind of good stuff that has been going on with our team, which is really, really cool.
“But, yeah, I mean, I would say my confidence level probably 2019 Indy 500, I was like very confident. I was like, Hey, this is going to be a good one. That’s just one race.
“2020 was tough for me, for sure. 2020 at Gateway I was pretty confident. We had some tough times there. Yeah, it’s one of those things where I just feel good about our program.
“You know what? You never know what could happen this weekend. We got two races, which is fantastic, at one of my favorite tracks. I think it’s a great chance to get points and a great chance to load up the old Chevy Tahoe with trophies and drive it back to Indianapolis.”
With that said, is there extra pressure with having a good car capable of winning in comparison of having a car that you know has no shot. I mean, Daly has driven almost anything. He drove a road course car on an oval because that the best an old team could offer him. Now, he has cars that if luck is put aside, is capable of podiums. If it doesn’t finish there, it’s either bad luck or the driver.
“No. I think the only pressure is just on yourself to continue to fine-tune everything,” he told me. “I think we know that we’ve got some good stuff right now. I think there’s no pressure. You’re just happy, right? You know, We’re going to be able to do the job.
“Even Scott Dixon will show up to a race weekend and have — they’re going to have probably a great situation, but Scott Dixon shows up and has to put in a lot of work to get either a race win or get to the front. It’s the same on us.
“We’ve got cars, we’ve got great cars. Scott Dixon qualified 17th for the Indy GP. Got a good car, though. That’s the level we’re competing at now. I don’t know what he qualified there. The level we’re competing at now is all of the cars are pretty good. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning them for your driver, for your situation, for the tire, for the day.”