As a midwest native, Ed Carpenter is just as sick of the winter weather as everybody else.
On Tuesday, the IZOD IndyCar Series driver found himself in Iowa once again to brave the cold and help promote June's Iowa Corn Indy 250. However, he'll at least be getting a break when the series starts up its schedule this weekend.
"I've been here every year we've raced besides 2010, but other than that, I've made all of them," Carpenter said. "I think this is the third year I've done media advances, so it's good to know the market. You start to see some familiar faces, although it's not always the same thing."
Carpenter and the rest of the IndyCar Series drivers will start their seasons in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Fla., this Sunday, but it won’t be too long until the series makes its way back to Iowa on June 22. Some changes await the drivers this time around, however, as last season’s heat race qualifying format has been increased to 50 laps and now has points on the line.
“It’s always been a big race, but it’s going to be an important race since, outside of Indianapolis, this is the second-highest points-paying event on the schedule,” Carpenter said. “That definitely means something to everybody. Whenever you can score points that aren’t normally there, it’s a big deal.”
Carpenter seemed to be on the fence about whether emphasizing the heat races is a good idea. He, like many of the fans last season, is hoping for a little more action in the heat races. But he also, as an owner, remains concerned about what an incident during the heat races could do to a team for the race weekend and season overall.
“Fifty laps is a short amount of time around here, especially in one of our cars,” Carpenter joked. “I think you might see a little more aggression, but at the same time, I think everyone always races somewhat hard. It may be exciting, and it may be just like last year. Who knows?”
Another change from last season Carpenter talked about was the reduced downforce package for the 2012 Iowa Corn Indy 250, which responded much better under the lights for the race than in the sun for the heat races. The conditions will be the exact opposite this year, as the heat races will run Saturday night and the race will be during the day on Sunday.
Whether this creates issues for the drivers remains to be seen. Last season’s qualifying went on without incident, but it could take only one for drivers to become more vocal about the new format — which is unique only to Iowa Speedway.
“I think it’s something good for the speedway and it gives the promoters something to sell, and if it’s successful from that standpoint, then it’s worthwhile to keep doing it,” Carpenter said. “If it doesn’t make a big push, I’m not sure if it’s worth keeping up since we’re not really pushing it on TV. But I’m all for trying new things and pushing the envelope.”
Carpenter and the rest of the field will have plenty to keep them busy before Iowa, as the series will have eight race weekends in between, including the Indianapolis 500 on May 26. Carpenter finished last season with his second IndyCar victory in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and is hoping to carry some of that momentum into this season.
After starting last season with the newly-formed Ed Carpenter Racing, a new car and a new crew, things eventually picked up for Carpenter as the season progressed. That cohesion will be tested this Sunday in St. Petersburg, a track at which Carpenter has never finished higher than 18th.
“The St. Pete trip is the start of the season and kind of like Spring Break at the same time since we get some warm weather finally,” Carpenter said. “But I’m really excited and looking forward to this year. The team has some chemistry and something to build on, and we didn’t have any of that last year. I think 2013 should be a good year for Ed Carpenter Racing.”