Continuity key for ECR’s growth in 2023, why I expect big things out of this camp in upcoming season

Ed Carpenter Racing is just one of four NTT INDYCAR Series teams in the paddock to look a lot like they did in the 2022 season with returning their entire driver lineup. In an era of so much parity, does having the same drivers back stand out as a benefit moving forward or does the team feel somewhat hindered in growth without maybe adding a car like McLaren did?

“In some ways, yes. I think a third car, full-time car, will give us a lot more data. It just goes a lot better,” said Rinus VeeKay on Wednesday afternoon.

“But it also happens quite often that a third car kind of shakes up the dynamic of the team and things don’t move that smoothly anymore. You don’t know until it happens.

“I know the team still performs really well with a third car at the ovals. For me, why not? But it’s not my call to make.

“I think having Conor as a teammate is great. For a fourth season in a row, we know what we can extract from each other. We don’t have to find anything out.”

2023 will serve as Conor Daly’s nith season in the series. A lot of those have been part-time, but several have all seen him race a full slate. However, the 2022 and 2023 seasons will mark the first time of his racing career that he’s driven full-time for the same team in back-to-back years.

In 2009, he ran Star Mazda for Andersen Racing. A year later, he came back to the series but with Juncos. For 2011, he ran part-time in Indy Lights for Sam Schmidt. He also ran full-time in GP3 overseas for Carlin. He remained in that series for 2012 but with Lotus. A year later, he came to GP3 for a third season but this time with ART Grand Prix. He also that season came back to run the Indy 500 with Foyt and an Indy Lights race with Team Moore.

2014 he was in GP2 with Venezuela GP Lazarus. 2015 he came back home to run part-time for Coyne as well as for Schmidt. That allowed a full season with DCR in 2016. In 2017 he ran full time for Foyt. 2018 was back part-time for DCR/Thom Burns as well as Harding. 2019 saw him race for Andretti, Carlin and Schmidt. 2020 and 2021 was still part-time roles with Carlin and ECR. 2022 led him back full-time with a singular team at ECR. He’s back in 2023.

“Well, it feels great for me, honestly, to have that environment to be in,” said Daly. “Last year there were several tracks that we went to as a team for the first time. You’re right, we now get to go back to places like Iowa, St. Louis, together for the second time.

“That’s awesome because I think we had great qualifying efforts at Iowa, for sure, and I loved where we were going in the St. Louis race until we ran into some issues there. I think there’s a lot of really cool stuff that we all got to experience really together for the first time.

“There’s a lot of really exciting stuff ahead.”

Stability is what he has now and it’s amazing what one can do with it.

Rinus VeeKay set the 3rd fastest Indy 500 qualifying lap last year. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

He’ll be teamed up with Rinus VeeKay who is expected to have an even further breakout year. He’s inching closer and closer. While some say he may have already broken out, I caution to say that he’s not fully there yet. He does too.

“I think just consistency,” VeeKay said on improvement areas. “We just got to have our bad weekends be a top 11, 12 instead of being all the way down. I think if we can really do that, just rank up the points, that will definitely give us momentum and we’ll put ourselves in a position more often where we can win the race or get on the podium.”

Yes, he has a win and yes, he had a pole in each of the last 2 seasons, but I also feel like he’s not yet maximized his potential. 4 podiums and 8 total top 5’s say he’s not been there yet. This year is his year.

In his sophomore season (2021) he had 6 top 10 finishes in the 1st 7 races run including that win at Indy. Over the final 8 races though, he never finished inside the top 15. I wondered how much his broken shoulder had something to do with the dip in results.

This past year, he had a similar start. VeeKay had 3 top 10’s in the 1st 4 races run including a pole at Barber and another front row for Indy. He dipped though after.

He crashed and finished last in the Indy 500. He was 16th and 17th respectively afterwards at Belle Isle and Road America.

Once we got to July however, he started coming out of the valley again and heating back up. 3 of his next 6 finishes had been back in the top 10 again, each in the top 6 at that, which has caused him to rise back up to 11th in points. His best career points finish was 12th last year.

“Yeah, that’s definitely something we focused on,” said VeeKay. “We’ve had great pace at races, but we’ve been too up and down, exactly.

“With the engineers, we kind of took apart every full race weekend with practice one, practice two, like everything with the feedback, what I gave. Lap for lap, we looked everything back. We tried to find stuff that should have gone right but didn’t go right. Kind of kept going the whole weekend.

“Sometimes in practice one something happens, that kind of carries over throughout the whole weekend. Sometimes something goes very well in practice one, and it carries out throughout the whole weekend.

“You know, I always try to give it all. There’s been weekends where I’ve left some on the table. Yeah, like Portland, I definitely made a mistake, while that was an easy top 10 when we were at that race.

“There’s been a few mistakes that were unnecessary that needed to be filtered out, so yeah. But, no, for me, yeah, I think there was a top eight in the championship that was possible with the car we had last year. I think now it was 12.

“I think if stuff would have gone my way a little, if I didn’t leave some stuff on the table, a top eight would have been possible.

“Yeah, we found a lot of stuff that I could prepare better in some ways. I feel like I can prepare a bit better in some ways. I found ways, different ways, to prepare, so…

“Yeah, I’m focusing on that now. Also within the team, they also found a few things they can improve so we can start off better.”

That’s why with his future solidified, it’s time to use that comfort and continue the ascension. Josef Newgarden is the best comparison. The Tennessee native spent 5 combined years between Sarah Fisher Hartman and Ed Carpenter Racing. Years 1-3 were with SFH with 2015 the combined year with SFH and ECR. 2016 saw him run for exclusively ECR.

His 3rd season he had 1 podium, 2 top 5’s, 7 top 10’s and 20 laps led. VeeKay has 1 podium, 3 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s and 94 laps led this year to which is Year No. 3 for him.

Newgarden’s 4th year is to when he broke out. He had 2 wins, 4 podiums, 5 top 5’s, 9 top 10’s and 345 laps led. That’s why Year No. 5 for him is to what led Newgarden to Penske for Year No. 6.

Newgarden’s 2016 season read 1 win, 4 podiums, 6 top 5 finishes, 11 top 10’s and 313 laps led. He went from 7th in points in 2015 to 4th in 2016.

If VeeKay continues on this trajectory, he could be in a similar situation Newgarden was in by time his final contract was up with ECR.

“It’s going according to my schedule like it hoped it to be,” VeeKay said. “Yeah, it’s gone fast. The whole Road to Indy, I’m in INDYCAR now longer than I’ve been in the Road to Indy. Pretty crazy.

“No, I’m very happy with how it goes. Yeah, good. No complaints.”

That’s great for ECR. If Daly can continue to grow, that gives the organization two bullets in their chamber on a weekly basis. For a series that is as competitive as it is, the gap to the “Big 2” is one thing, but the gap to McLaren, Andretti and Rahal is another. ECR has a strong chance to join that category and could further transcend themselves forward with this philosophy of continuity.

“Yeah, absolutely looking for race wins,” team owner and part-time driver, Ed Carpenter, said. “I think we feel like we have that in our team, in our driver lineup. So for sure race wins and consistency, consistency inside the top five, top 10 with all the cars is where we want to be.

“Rinus nearly won a race last year. Probably should have at Barber. We’ve had places that we’ve been super competitive, like Indy and others. We definitely had some weaknesses and disappointing results last year, too.

“Looking to show a level of consistency that we haven’t had lately. So getting shored up. Absolutely wins are the goal.”

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