IndyCar Series drivers Ed Carpenter (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet) and Charlie Kimball (No. 23 Carlin Motorsport Chevrolet) were in the Dallas/Fort Worth area Tuesday for a media day leading up to the May 26 Indianapolis 500 and eventually the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8.
The following is a partial transcript of the Q&A session that took place during the gathering with local media:
Was Monday's practice session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway useful to both of you?
EC: "Up until Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I think the majority of the field was working on race setup and then you go through Friday, Saturday and Sunday and you're doing nothing but focusing on qualifying, really, for everybody so it's nice to put downforce back on and get out. I think, in our case, we were kind of looking to validate some things that we felt like we learned over the first couple days of practice and put it in race types of situations and, clearly, that's what everyone wanted to do with the way the packs were forming up. So the only thing that could have been better about it as if conditions were a little more like what we are expecting on Sunday but it was still a good day."
CK: "I think, for us, very similar to Ed. We had some direction with different weather conditions last week in practice when we were working on the race car that we wanted to check. We had a couple of prospective insights over the course of qualifying weekend, I think really born out of the struggles from our teammates in making the race, a little bit. It changed our viewpoint a little bit on how to approach sort of more global perspective stuff just on setup. And so we wanted to do some work on that and so we did some running on our own just to make sure the car was as we wanted it, did some running in traffic, checked the boxes, did some pit stop practice, made sure the guys were looking at what they wanted to be working on over the course of the week. We built a little bit of a plan for Carb Day based on yesterday but we'll see what the weather does Friday and figure out what it's going to look like for Sunday."
Ed, ECR cars are lined up 2-3-4 on the starting grid for Sunday's Indianapolis 500. That has to be a great feeling for your team.
EC: "It's the tightest all three of our cars, or two of our cars, whatever we've run, have been together. I'm certainly really proud to have all of our cars that equal and starting toward the front. It definitely makes for an easier first stint, if nothing else. From there, 500 miles is a long time and there's a lot of things that can happen: you know, anywhere from five to eight pit stops that they've got to continue to execute. But, if we are able to execute and can maintain the performance out of the cars that we've had, there should be no reason we shouldn't be able to stay up towards the pointy end of the field barring any alternate strategies or getting caught out on a yellow. Hopefully, we'll be able to protect each other a little bit and stay towards the front and be well positioned for a fight in the end."
Charlie, you'll start 20th but with your teammates not qualifying, I guess you won't have any buddies out there.
CK: "It's tough. Sunday afternoon, with the last row shootout, was heartbreaking for the guys because I know how hard all of the mechanics work. All three cars that didn't make the race put huge efforts in, from drivers, from teams, from mechanics, from engineers. And for Max (Chilton) and Pato (O'Rourke), not being a part of the Indy 500 is ... I can only imagine the pain. Even yesterday, when we were doing race stuff, the car crews from the other two cars had the day off to just kind of catch their breath and process. A lot of the mechanics came in and one of them said to me, 'I just wanted to look at the car. I just wanted to think about what could have been and how we go forward from here.' For me, not having any friends, as you say, when it gets to Lap 190, 195, I don't know that anybody has any friends out there. And so, it is different but I have the full support of the whole Carlin organization and I know that we've had a really good week. My crew has done a great job and, frankly, I was really disappointed in qualifying because I felt we underperformed. There was a half to three-quarters of a mile an hour left in the car that we missed based on the conditions when we did our run. And then, with the challenges in the two garages next to us, we knew we were safely in the race and we weren't going to get pushed back very far or further than about 20th or 21st so we did everything we could, putting our energies into helping those other two car crews. So we didn't run again. Had we done another run I think we could've been somewhere between the 12th to 16th range honestly, starting grid-wise but it's 500 miles. I remember, was it 2012, Dario (Franchitti), was backwards in pit lane on his first pit stop and he won the thing. When Juan Montoya won it in 2015, he lost his whole rear wing and pod assembly under the first yellow. It's 500 miles. Good cars go forward over the course of the race. Lots of stuff can happen. You just have to be smart, take care of the car, take care of the guys on pit lane and then take advantage when the opportunity is there."
Could either of you walked into the McLaren garage last Sunday and done something to get it qualified for the Indianapolis 500?
EC: "I think it would have just depended on how much time you had. One thing that's hard is that you can't fake preparation and make it up. It's something that is a very long process. Really, it starts in the off-season getting prepared for this race. The amount of detail and attention that goes into the cars to make them quick and consistent and all the things you need at Indianapolis ... it's not something that happens overnight. For us, we started out team in 2012 and it's really been a constant evolution over that time of learning and improving and creating processes from scratch and perfecting them over time. So I don't know how you can really answer that question without having first-hand knowledge of what their car build really was or where they were lacking, specifically. Certainly, I think if I had the opportunity to help them or wanted to help them, I probably could have but how much time would actually be needed to make a difference is the big unknown in that equation."
CK: "Being a little closer (at Carlin), there was technical partnership. We had all their data and they had all of our data. There were discussions on setups all week. I think Ed's right. It comes down to Sunday morning was way too late. If you say, OK, try and get that car in the race Sunday morning, Saturday night ... honestly, I think probably Thursday was too late. You could see some of the writing on the wall then. They could have made the race if other teams didn't execute but this is the closest Indianapolis 500 field in history by mile an hour. The whole field, based on Simon's (pole winner Simon Pagenaud) pole average speed, was covered by two football field. Something like 608 feet. I did the math yesterday morning because I was so intrigued by it. It was a difference between first and last of 1.8 feet per car per mile. That is absurd and when you talk about percentages, rounding to the nearest percent, everybody ran 100%. It is shocking how close it was. So if someone else didn't execute, they were close enough to make the race. But everyone did their jobs, everyone executed, and I think some other maximized their potential. I think the preparation Ed talks about was way too late and maybe not as clearly directed as teams like Ed's that have been around since 2012 or even Carlin. We did so well last year, qualified 15th and 20th, and had good race cars and ran the whole season so we knew what it takes to be competitive on ovals so that was the mindset coming into this month.
"When you look at the six cars in that last-row shootout, four of them had crashes during the course of the week. The only car that crashed that made the race Saturday night was the 10 car (Hinchcliffe), and even then they had to run a second time to make the race. I think that's part of the week that's gotten so compacted that a mistake, even on Day 1 ... if you go out and knock a corner off at Indy on Tuesday, you're already seven hours behind of track time and full work time, you're probably a day behind. It's too competitive to end up that behind and still be successful."
EC: "It's different. When I started my career at the 500, my rookie year was still when it was a full month, two weekends of qualifying. Back then we would run our backup cars and practice with those for a while and eventually roll out the primary car so you could kind of protect yourself and save your equipment longer. To Charlie's point, with how condensed it is now, since the grand prix has been added even more so, not being on track until Tuesday, whether you get some weather or an accident or any type of setback, it immediately puts you at a disadvantage. And with that, everyone shows up with their best stuff now. No one holds anything back for waiting for qualifying because with the competition being so tight, you're constantly gauging yourself every session, every hour, every day to make sure you have what it takes. It is critical to not give anything up and to not make it harder than it already is. I feel for anybody that doesn't make the show, no matter how big the team or how small of a team. It happens. You look back at last year and James (Hinchcliffe) was on the outside looking in with an equally strong, INDYCAR championship-contending caliber team two years after he sat on the pole. Personally for me, I have major anxiety heading into the month of May ever year. We were on the pole last year and we're now second this year but, in my mind, if we chose the wrong things to focus leading up to the month of May and in our preparation and we were trying to improve from last year, you can easily be on the outside looking in if you did a poor job preparing. That happened to us in 2015. Josef (Newgarden) and I both ended upside down that month and wrote off two tubs. Fortunately, we were able to recover and get in the show but when you don't execute in your plans leading up to the month and show up with the wrong "solution," it can get out of control and spiral down very quickly."
Charlie, what would it mean for you to win the Indianapolis 500?
CK: "When you take that checkered flag first, it's transformative in that you become immortal in that moment. Your face is on a trophy that has over a hundred years of history. You're elevated in extremely rarified air. Qualifying for the Indy 500 is a pretty small club. Winning it ... that's atmospheric. As Ed said, dreaming of it, thinking about it, that's what wakes me up in the middle of the night, the middle of winter ... It gets a California kid out of bed in the middle of (and Indianapolis) winter to go to the gym. It's everything. I would give up everything, professionally, for a real viable opportunity to win the Indy 500. I'd give up every other win, every other trophy, every other success, every other opportunity, just for the chance to make the right call to pull into victory lane. That's how much it means."
Ed, what are your thoughts for Sunday's Indianapolis 500 as both a driver and team owner with your cars 2nd, 3rd, and 4th on the grid?
EC: "I'm very proud of the team on the ownership side. Our people put a lot of work into building our cars for the month of May and it shows. They deserve the credit for that consistency amongst the team. As it relates to the 500, we put ourselves in a very good position to make the first sting go well and now it's up to us in the seat, as drivers, to execute on our job and whatever our plan is. We've also got to execute all day long in the pits. So long as we execute, our cars have shown we have the speed to be up front. I know I can be up front and I know I have what it takes to win the race. So we just have to go out, run our game plan and have a clean 500 miles."
Tickets for the June 8 DXC Technology 600 INDYCAR Series race and June 7 SpeedyCash.com 400 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race are available HERE or by calling the Texas Motor Speedway Ticket Office at 817.215.8500.