Today on Open-Wheels.com, we continue our team-by-team review for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. In this edition, we take a look back at Ed Carpenter Racing’s year. Another offseason of changes for the team turned in some positive results, despite a few setbacks.
Old and New Faces in New Places
For 2018, Ed Carpenter Racing’s driver lineup continued to shift. Spencer Pigot was moved from the road/street course driver role in the No. 20 to full-time.
Pigot took the place of JR Hildebrand in the No. 21, who left the team after one year. Owner/Driver Ed Carpenter remained in the No. 20 car for the six ovals, but brought in a new driver for the 11 road and street course races.
England’s Jordan King, a veteran of British Formula 3, would make the journey to IndyCar. Carpenter’s faith in King proved warranted early in the season. In his first start on the streets of St. Petersburg, King set a new track record and qualified fourth.
The race would not be as kind to King or Pigot. Pigot spun after contact on Lap 7. The 2015 Indy Lights Champion recovered to improve one spot from his 16th-place start to finish 15th, a lap down.
King led five laps and finished three laps down in 21st.
Three weeks later, Carpenter took King’s place for the first oval: the 1.022-mile ISM Raceway. He and Pigot struggled in qualifying, starting in 18th and 15th respectively.
Pigot again gained a spot from his starting position to end the evening one lap down 14th. Carpenter meanwhile, moved up through the field to finish 7th, his best effort since the 2017 race at the track.
King returned to the cockpit a week later at Long Beach and again out-qualified Pigot (12th to 18th). The rookie was involved in a multi-car crash on Lap 72 and finished a lap down in 18th. Pigot again finished a lap off the pace but improved to 14th.
The three-race stretch concluded at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama the following Sunday. Both drivers struggled as the race was pushed to a Monda conclusion.
Pigot qualified ahead of King for the first time (17th to king’s 19th), but ended a lap off the pace. King finished one spot ahead of his teammate in 14th. It marked his best effort to date and his first lead-lap finished.
May Brings Hope
May began on a positive note for the team, King again qualified fifth and Pigot started ninth, Pigot’s career-best. As the 85-lap IndyCar Grand Prix began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, things went south.
King and Pigot were involved in separate incidents on the opening lap. Pigot recovered from a drive-through penalty to finish 15th, while King finished 2 laps down in 24th.
For the 102nd Indianapolis 500, Danica Patrick joined the team for her final race. Despite a seven-year absence, Patrick qualified an impressive ninth. Pigot again earned a career-best start of sixth.
It would be Carpenter stealing the show in qualifying, ultimately. Carpenter stormed to his third Indianapolis 500 pole in six years with a 229.618 MPH four-lap average. ECR would join Team Penske as the only teams to have all their cars make the Fast 9.
Early on, Carpenter dominated the race. He led 63 of the first 91 laps, with Pigot adding 3 in that span.
Although Patrick crashed out of the race on Lap 68 and Pigot finished a lap down in 20th, Carpenter had the best 500 of his career. Despite finishing second to Will Power, Carpenter led the most laps (65) and earned his second Top Five.
Continuing to Progress
A week later, the series moved to the doubleheader weekend on Belle Isle. For the first time in 2018, Pigot outqualified King (12th to 20th).
In the first 70-lap race, Pigot would also outrun his teammate, recording a season-best (9th to King’s 16th.)
Saturday’s success would not carry over to Sunday for Pigot. After a Lap 1 spin, he retired from the race with suspension issues after 21 laps and finished 23rd. Meanwhile, King started 11th but ended the afternoon a lap off the pace in 18th.
A Saturday night race at Texas Motor Speedway six days later would conclude a busy stretch of five races in five weekends.
Despite their showing at Indianapolis, the 1.5-mile speedway proved a handful for Carpenter and Pigot. Carpenter struggled and would make contact with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens on Lap 172, ending the night for both drivers.
Pigot did record his best finish on an oval (11th), despite being a lap behind race winner Scott Dixon.
After a much-needed week away, ECR finally started to show signs of consistency at Road America. For the first time in 2018, both Pigot and King started (10th and 13th) and finished (eighth and 12th) inside the Top 15.
After another week off, a return to ovals on the .875-mile Iowa Speedway yielded even more success. Carpenter qualified eighth and despite contact with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato, finished tenth (albeit two laps down).
Pigot, meanwhile, took advantage of confusion following the yellow for that same contact. With Robert Wickens and Josef Newgarden pitting, Pigot moved up to second (a career-best finish), ECR’s second runner-up in 2018.
The. following week’s race in Toronto served yet another mixed result for the team. King started eighth and led six laps before finishing in 11th. Pigot was involved in an incident on Lap 77 and was relegated to 20th in the final running order.
Up-and-Down Season Continues
Two weeks after the final street course of the season, King and Pigot returned to action at Mid-Ohio. Another road course turned to mid-pack runs of 12th and 13th for the duo after starting 16th and 18th.
A three-week break elapsed before the final ovals for Pigot and Carpenter. At Pocono, Pigot spun at the start and returned to complete 17 laps before exiting the race and finishing 16th, as he started.
Carpenter led a lap (his first since Indy) and moved from 15th to finish 10th, three laps down. Building upon his success at Iowa, the race at Gateway Motorsports Park proved Pigot could be competitive on short ovals.
After the grid was set by points, Pigot made his way from 14th to 6th. In his final 2018 start, Carpenter started 11th and ended one lap down in 12th.
Building for 2019
King returned to the No. 20 for the final two races on the Portland and Sonoma road courses. Although King out-qualified Pigot again at Portland (12th to 17th) Pigot became the story in the 105-lap race.
Pigot again overcame his 17th-place start and finished fourth, his best effort on a road course. He also posted consecutive Top 10 finishes for the first time. King finished in 15h.
Days before the season finale in Sonoma, ECR announced a contract extension with Pigot for 2019.
The last race of 2019 would not be the ending he or King hoped for. Pigot started 17th before a gearbox issue ended his day 38 laps in. After starting last on the 25-car grid, King ended his season with a 13th-place finish.
In addition to Pigot’s return for 2019, Owner-Driver Ed Carpenter will also reprise his role as the oval driver for the No. 20. It is unknown if King will return to the team or if they will field a third car for the Indianapolis 500. The team’s performance this does provide optimism for all involved moving forward.
Header Image by Chris Jones/INDYCAR