|Mike Conway victory validates Ed Carpenter Racing|
|Tuesday, April 15, 2014 12:00 AM|
LONG BEACH, Calif. — A day after Dario Franchitti announced his retirement, another IndyCar driver announced he was also getting out of his car.
Ed Carpenter's decision in November to race only on ovals and to turn his car over to a more skilled driver on road and street courses was largely overshadowed by Franchitti's sudden retirement because of injuries suffered in a crash a month earlier.
Carpenter wanted Mike Conway, who had willingly walked away from ovals a year earlier, behind the wheel and said hiring the British driver would "strengthen our team by competing for victories at every single event."
It couldn't have been an easy decision for Carpenter, the professional race car driver.
But as the owner of Ed Carpenter Racing, he had to make what appeared to be the best decision for his young race team.
Only two races into the new arrangement, Carpenter's decision was validated Sunday by Conway's win at the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It was just the second victory for the organization, which first visited Victory Lane in the 2012 season finale at Fontana as Carpenter wrapped up his debut season as a driver/owner.
"I have never won a race this early in the season," Carpenter said. "Usually I win at the end of the year. So this is very exciting to show that our decision paid off pretty quickly."
The victory was also more redemption for Conway, who some believed had thrown away his career when he decided after a day of testing for the 2012 season finale at Fontana that he no longer wanted to race on ovals. He'd missed most of the 2010 season with serious injuries to his back and leg suffered in a last-lap crash at the Indianapolis 500 and Conway was a participant in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas when Dan Wheldon was killed.
He wasn't comfortable on ovals, he didn't enjoy racing on them and he simply wasn't going to do it anymore even though it cost him his ride.
Conway still managed to put together seven IndyCar starts last season. It helped tremendously that he won at Detroit in his debut with Dale Coyne Racing and he parlayed it into an invitation from Coyne to run the double-headers at Toronto and Houston. All told, Conway grabbed a win, two podium finishes and five top-10 finishes in his seven starts.
But even with those results, Conway wasn't sure anyone in the paddock was interested in offering a steady job to a driver not willing to race for the IndyCar championship. The current schedule has 12 road and street course races and six ovals.
"Slim, definitely slim. I wasn't sure if I'd make it back," Conway said. "But managed to pick up some rides last year and kind of showed that I've still got a lot of speed, and we won in Detroit as well. But I still wasn't sure at the end of last year what was going to happen.
"To be able to pick this up is a dream come true. It couldn't have worked out any better between me and Ed. I'm very thankful for the position I'm in and trying to make the most of it."
Hiring Conway gave Carpenter the flexibility, freedom and ability to focus on the business side of the race team and he was able to put together a deal to enter a second car in the Indianapolis 500. Carpenter won the Indy pole last year but as a single-car team, he had nobody to work with during preparations for the race and finished 10th.
Now he'll have JR Hildebrand, who as a rookie nearly won the 2011 race, as his teammate. It gives Carpenter two shots to win the Indy 500 and with Conway, Ed Carpenter Racing is truly a legitimate threat to make it to Victory Lane every race.
"We've got a really good group of people. Some great engineers on board and everyone is working really hard," Conway added. "If you've got that drive and that hunger within the team, you can definitely achieve anything."
Haas plans to field Formula 1 team in next 2 years
CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR team owner Gene Haas is out to prove that an American-based team can succeed in the Formula One racing series.
"I think we can beat the Europeans at their own game," Haas said Monday at a news conference.
Haas announced he plans to field a team "Haas Formula" either in 2015 or 2016, depending on how long it takes to find an engine supplier and get things up and running.
Haas Formula would become the first American-based Formula One team since Parnelli Jones Racing in 1974-76, which employed Mario Andretti as its driver.
The FIA granted entry to the American-based USF1 team in 2009 but it was a major failure and never hit the grid in part of because of a lack of financial backing. As a result, there is plenty of skepticism when it comes to Haas' foray into the Formula One world.
"It's extremely hard to do," Haas said. "I wouldn't be doing it if I thought I was going to fail. But that's the challenge — proving other people wrong."
Haas explained he expects the venture into Formula One racing to cost billions of dollars.
"Every week it goes up by another billion," he said with a grin.
However, he told reporters he has better resources than the failed USF1 team, which puts him ahead of the curve.
Haas is the owner of CNC machine manufacturer Haas Automation, one of the largest machine tool builders in the world. He recently announced the company, which is based in California, currently exceeds $1 billion in annual sales.
He also operates the Windshear wind tunnel, one of the most sophisticated wind tunnels for the testing of car aerodynamics in the world.
"USF1 was a basically startup that had no resources whatsoever and didn't have a racing team and it took on a huge challenge," Haas said. "I admire the fact they took that challenge.
"But on the other hand I'm partners with Tony Stewart in a very successful (NASCAR) racing team and I have a machine tool company that has the capability of building the most sophisticated machines in the world. ... I have a lot of the resources and infrastructure that is necessary to succeed."
Haas said his goal is hire a young American driver with a great potential — although he hasn't begun to narrow down that search.
He co-owns a NASCAR team with Stewart and Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch all drive for them.
However, Haas essentially ruled out his current collection of NASCAR drivers as potential candidates, figuring it would be "impossible to accomplish that and survive" given the grueling schedule Sprint Cup drivers face and the challenges it takes to learn how to drive a Formula One car.
Haas plans for his Formula One headquarters to be based on Kannapolis, N.C., in a building adjacent to where his NASCAR team calls home.
The 61-year-old Haas made it clear his venture into Formula One is to broaden Haas Automation's exposure in the European market — and he believes the worldwide racing series will give him that opportunity.
"We want to become a household name" in Europe, Haas said.
Haas was granted a license from Formula One's governing body to start a U.S.-based entry in the series on Thursday.
Haas explained he must inform the FIA of the team's plans to begin racing — in 2015 or 2016 — by June. He expects he'll know much sooner, probably within the next four weeks.
"I think 2015 is too close and 2016 is too far — that's kind of where I see it," Haas added. "If we wait until 2016, we are going to start delaying and spending even more money because we will be a neutral. ... What we need to do is come up with a plan where we can basically arrive with a car that is based on our partner's technology within the rules of the FIA. We are going to have to beg, borrow and steal to arrive at that first race so we can compete."
Indy 500 gives teams 2nd chance to make field
INDIANAPOLIS — The new qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500 now allows any entry that has not made the field at the end of the first day of qualifying a chance to make the last row of the grid on the second day.
The IndyCar Series announced the changes on Monday.
The changes allow positions 31-33 to be provisional. Those cars, plus any entry not already in the field that has declared intentions to qualify for the race, will participate in a separate qualification session May 18 to determine the 11th row on the grid.
IndyCar also added an extra day of practice to the schedule. The session will be held May 19 after the 33-car field has been set.
"As our qualifying format evolves we continue to evaluate what is best for the competitors," said Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition. "We realized the need to provide teams that didn't get an attempt on Saturday an opportunity on Sunday to make the Indianapolis 500. Ultimately, we still capture the fastest 33 cars and that's who will make the race."
The qualifying changes come as IndyCar struggles to fill the 33-car field, making the once tension-filled Bump Day drama-free the last two years. Without additional entrants on hand trying to make the race, Sunday had become a glorified practice session.
By making qualifying stretch over two days, Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has become relevant again.