RACER: Pretty much since the Dallara DW12 appeared, you've been really gaining on the leaders, laptime-wise. How would you explain it?
ED CARPENTER: We work hard, and in fact you could make some arguments that we've worked harder on improving ourselves on the street and road courses than we have on ovals. It's just so hard to get the results. [Driver coach] Lee Bentham has been with us since we started the team last year and he's a big asset, and I think the team itself is good and full of strong people. The car's still ahead of me at these places, and it can get frustrating because some days you feel you're getting closer and then others, like you're climbing Everest. There's no doubt that having a second car would help a lot, too. But overall I'd say I'm enjoying the challenge. It's important to monitor the progress and then keep chipping away.
What would you say your struggles before that were based on?
My background before IndyCar was all oval based, no road racing whatsoever, whereas 99 percent of the guys in IndyCar had the opposite challenge; they were brought up on road courses and had to learn how to drive ovals. Ovals are such a different discipline that demands finesse and being way ahead of your car, and that's why I'd say I'm better on road courses than street courses because of how your mindset has to be, how your hands are, and how smooth you have to be – more like an oval. Street courses are harsh and demand more reactive driving, more hand movement. So I'm having to break the habits of many years of only needing to drive in one particular way.
But one of your drives I'll always remember is Indy last year, when your front wing got stuck and the car became very on-the-nose. It was frightening but impressive to watch you dirt-tracking it around, so it's not like you can't manhandle a car…
Yeah, the front wing adjuster broke, so I was having to catch a lot of slides, but eventually I spun. I mean, yeah, that was definitely a situation where you have to do a lot more steering, but still, even with a loose car on an oval, you need to be a lot more controlled with your inputs. If you're moving your hands too much, you're going to upset the balance.
Given how little you're allowed to change on the cars these days, is it fairly easy to track your progress as a driver and see how much is down to your improved technique?
Well, there are a couple of ways to track progress: one is in results and unfortunately it's hard to see much improvement there, but our race pace is much more competitive and now I have to work on being more consistent, about being good on both reds [alternate tires] and blacks [primaries] and working on race craft. Before, we were just working on finding the pace to be able to race! Lately, we've been getting to where we are part of the race and so we're continuing to work on improving technique. And honestly, I'm learning each time I'm out there. The one thing I'd really like is for the series to allow us to test more; that would be the biggest, quickest way we could improve ourselves.
Inevitably, the question has to come up regarding whether you would get a teammate, which I assume depends on money, or in sharing your ride with a street or road course specialist.
Well, obviously some people have wondered why I don't arrange it where I run the ovals and then have Mike Conway in the car for road and street courses because that's all he wants to do. But I asked that question to the folks at Fuzzy's Vodka after our first year, just to check that we were giving them everything they expected, and it's not something they were interested in doing. It's not something I'm interested in doing either, to be honest! But obviously if the sponsors and investors hadn't been satisfied, it's something I would consider, no doubt.
So it's not as if that idea hasn't been talked about but where we are with the sponsorship of the No. 20 car, I'm the driver. Certainly we'd like to add a car but easier said than done. That's one of the hard parts about being in only our second year, compared with teams that have been around longer and have accumulated extra support equipment, whether it's transportation stuff, timing stands, fuel rigs, radios… everything. To run an additional car is more of a financial hump for us to get over than it is for most other teams; the investment required is a little higher.