Carpenter adds another accomplishment
Ed Carpenter already etched his name into the Firestone Indy Lights record books as a full-time competitor in the series when he won the first Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Several years removed from that accomplishment, he made series history again at Kentucky Speedway
Carpenter, who raced in the in the INDYCAR-sanctioned series from 2002 and 2003 Indy Lights series and finished third in the points championship both years, became the first full-time series graduate to score an IZOD IndyCar Series victory.
Unlike many of the drivers in Firestone Indy Lights today, Carpenter did not move up through a program like the Mazda Road to Indy or race in Europe before he joined the series—he came straight from the USAC short track racing. Firestone Indy Lights was a crucial part of his transition to Indy-style cars.
"Especially on the superspeedways and high-speed ovals, there's so much race craft that goes into it," Carpenter said. "Knowing how to position your car around other people, racing clean and respecting other guys at those speeds—Indy Lights does a great job at preparing guys for that if you're looking to transition."
In Firestone Indy Lights, Carpenter had the opportunity to be the first driver to race in an Indy Lights race and an IndyCar Series race in the same weekend at Chicagoland in 2003. After much searching, Carpenter was told that finally some extra sponsorship money had come about to fund a three-race stint with PDM Racing in the IndyCar Series that season.
He passed his rookie test with flying colors, aided by a little bit of experience testing before in previous years. Not only did he just race in both, he finished a close second in the Indy Lights race and 13th out of 22 cars. He even made it into the top five at one point in the IndyCar Series race, which was eventually won by Sam Hornish Jr.
"The first time I got in an IndyCar Series race," Carpenter said, "I had the confidence, ability and knowledge coming out in Indy Lights to be competitive my first start."
Even though he was well prepared for his first IndyCar start, Carpenter still had an Indy Lights race to compete in that weekend. Though he wanted to be competitive, he was hoping things would go smoothly to ensure he could be in the best shape to race in the IndyCar Series event. Instead, he ended up in a heated battle with fellow Indy Lights competitor Mark Taylor. After the two cars almost made contact several times, he was getting worried.
"Everybody's thinking, I can't get in a wreck here, because I might not be able to race the IndyCar Series race," Carpenter said. "Even though I was running for the championship in Indy Lights, the IndyCar Series race was more important at that point because I wanted to make sure I did a good enough job to make a statement to get a ride for the next year."
That mindset is shared by many of the drivers in a developmental series like Firestone Indy Lights. Even after championships have been decided, drivers must still push themselves to perform well in order to attract the interest of teams in higher levels. Fortunately, with the bushel of talent currently racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series from Firestone Indy Lights, those elite teams are starting to pay attention.
"James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Raphael Matos before them—guys are coming out of Indy Lights prepared," Carpenter said. "I wish there were more opportunities than what there are, but I think it's very obvious that Indy Lights is doing a great job at preparing guys for the step up when they get their opportunities."