Through the years, Ed Carpenter Racing has always been quick on the ovals, with Ed Carpenter regularly running inside the top-five. It’s why it was no surprise that the pair of ECR drivers – JR Hildebrand and Carpenter – topped the time sheet at the end of the Phoenix International Speedway test.
While recognizing the speed within the team, Carpenter noted the edge could partially have come from being able to partake in the Firestone Tire Test last fall.
The test served as a significant benefit for Hildebrand, who moves from running a partial road course based schedule in past years with ECR to running the full series schedule in 2017. Being able to partake in the test last fall proved to be a benefit for Hildebrand in getting used to Phoenix and the short oval package, which he says helped in getting “up to speed more quickly” at the test.
“We rolled off the truck kind of as we would say just in the window, so it was a lot of just being able to — what we’ve been doing is sort of tailoring the cars to our individual needs,” Hildebrand said. “Those aren’t that different, so both of us sort of then working together with our teams to benefit from each other along the way.”
Though on top of those factors, Carpenter stated they were fast last year, and the changes in the off-season have appeared to work thus far.
“We’ve gone through some changes, but the guys have kept their head down,” Carpenter said. “We still have the same goals of competing for race wins, competing for the championship, Indy 500, and this is an important race. It’s the first oval of the year. You want to come and set of set the tone for the ovals here just as St. Pete is important to kick off the season and set the tone for the road and street courses. The guys have been working hard.”
For the team, it serves as a confidence boost. For Hildebrand, it’s reassurance that he has put himself in the right position for 2017.
“It starts to hit you like this time of year that it’s like, oh, we’re going to St. Pete, and I’m going to race,” he said. “It’s like, we’re not just going to hang out. So it’s definitely a different level of commitment but something that I’ve been used to before.”
It also allowed him to grow confidence in his engineer Justin Taylor, whom ECR hired over the winter. Taylor enters the Verizon IndyCar Series with a sports car background, after having spent time with Audi.
” It’s been great working with him so far,” Hildebrand said. “He and I have got along really well right from the beginning. I’m living out in Boulder, he’s from Denver originally, he’s an American guy. It’s been cool working with him, just kind of off the bat, I guess. There are definitely some differences, but I think as Ed would, I’m sure, back me up on this, having guys come in that have had the level of success that he has at teams like that, despite the fact that the teams are very different.”
Hildebrand applauded the move to bring Taylor in, stating he brings a fresh perspective and “keeps all of us honest in terms of just the normal way that we go about thinking.”
Though while the word “change” has been used on a bunch of occurrences, Carpenter hasn’t looked at it that way with regards to Hildebrand.
“JR has been a part of this team the past three years, even though he hasn’t been in the car as much as we wanted,” he said. “He was still kind of in tune with what we were doing all the time, communicating with myself, Josef, the engineers. So it’s not your typical like new driver coming into a team. He’s pretty familiar with how we operate, and with most of the key people. We’ve had couple changes in engineering, so that’s really where the biggest change is at is getting those relationships built and familiarity with the car and driver.”
“It feels like a pretty easy transition to be making,” Hildebrand said. “We’ve got some challenges ahead of us. I think to be totally prepped and on the same page and ready to rock and roll when it starts to really matter, but that’s what tests like this are great for. I mean, I think a lot of guys are kind of sitting around like, oh, man, it’s too bad we don’t have a few more sets of tires and can do a little bit more running.”
While the speed brings the boost in confidence, Carpenter’s pleasure from the test more so came from how comfortable they got their Chevrolets to drive under the lights in race-trim mode.
“The goal leaving these tests, you want to leave feeling like you’ve got a car capable of winning, and that’s when you feel like you’ve had a good test,” he said. “We’ve got a little work to do for that, but I think, like JR said, we were pretty close to being in the window of where we want to be when we got here, and now we’re just trying to find little things here and there to make it better.”
EMAIL ASHLEY AT firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.