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Slimming down and youthful foundations: Breaking down ECR's Rasmussen deal

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Credit: Chris Owens

Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) had a difficult 2023 season. Conor Daly, who was adrift in the championship despite leading four-three in the race head-to-head with teammate Rinus VeeKay, was dropped from the team on performance grounds after only seven races. The outlook was bleak despite technical changes and investments across the off-season.

Veteran driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the IndyCar championship in 2012 but had not raced full-time since 2021, took over in the No.20 ride for the second part of the year. His results across the final 10 races offered little improvement on Daly, but for a team struggling to find consistent performance, the American did offer a voice of advice for the team.

Following Hunter-Reay’s arrival, whether a coincidence or not, VeeKay did see an upturn, securing 14th-place in the championship - creditable given ECR’s perceived struggles. The Dutch driver, whose first three years in the series saw him emerge on the radar of some of IndyCar’s leading teams, has offered a template for the team as a home for young drivers.

Over the years, ECR has also played host to the likes of Spencer Pigot, Jordan King and, most notably, Josef Newgarden in the early ventures of their respective careers in IndyCar. In 2024, their main lineup will consist of two 23-year-olds - part of an intentional strategy employed by team owner Ed Carpenter over the years.

Reigning Indy NXT champion, Christian Rasmussen, becomes the latest up-and-coming driver to join ECR. The Dane is taking on a road and street course programme in the No.20 car as Hunter-Reay resumes his retirement from full-time IndyCar competition, with an intention for Rasmussen to also run the Indianapolis 500 in a third entry.

Carpenter will move from the No.33 car to resume his oval-only programme back in the No.20 in tandem with Rasmussen running on the road and street courses. Rasmussen is also set to compete in a third entry in the Indianapolis 500. The pair appeared in a video conference on Wednesday and elaborated on the details of the move…

Credit: James Black

Why Rasmussen over Askew?

Both Rasmussen and Oliver Askew, who won Indy Lights in his debut year in 2019 before going on to run 17 races in IndyCar across 2020 and 2021, tested for ECR in September. It became apparent that it was essentially a shootout between the pair for the team’s vacant seat in 2024.

Carpenter ultimately came to the difficult decision to choose Rasmussen over Askew, whose previous stint in IndyCar was marred by concussion. Despite Askew’s obvious talent from the junior ranks, and in IndyCar as he snatched a podium in his fifth career race at Iowa Speedway, Rasmussen was seen as the best pick off the back of his title in the premier feeder series.

“There’s never just one single thing,” Carpenter told DIVEBOMB when asked how much the recent test weighed when making the decision. “Christian certainly did a good job at the test, but so did Oliver. I spoke with him after we made the decision. It’s one of my least favourite parts about this job and business.

“On one hand you’re making one driver extremely happy to give him an opportunity, and you’re also crushing another guy. It’s never just one thing. We just felt strongly as a group that Christian was the right choice for the team and that’s the direction we went.”

Speaking in an earlier segment of the press conference, Carpenter spoke in more detail about the rationale behind recruiting Rasmussen: “I think his record speaks for itself, the wins and championships. It’s going to be fun having yet another young guy in the team, keeping that energy level high.

“I think he and Rinus are going to be a really good fit and complement each other well. The biggest thing we saw on the test day at Barber was the natural ability and speed that he has. There’s definite things we know he needs to work on, that Christian is aware he needs to work on. But we’re excited to get that journey started.”

Credit: Chris Owens

A deserved opportunity for Rasmussen Winning the Indy NXT title this year, winning five races across each type of track, means Ramussen has been victorious on each rung of the Road to Indy since moving stateside in 2018. He won in his second year in USF2000 before winning in his maiden season of USF Pro 2000, then going on to win in his second campaign at the top of the ladder.

This is no mean feat, putting Rasmussen in a similar bracket to Kyle Kirkwood from recent years, albeit with Kirkwood blitzing the championships across a three-year period. While budget issues loomed last year amid Rasmussen’s title-winning campaign, he wasn’t going to let stepping up to IndyCar, beyond his guaranteed scholarship races, slip by.

“It’s super cool for me to show that the ladder system works because that’s really how I’ve been able to make this happen,” Rasmussen said. “I’m finally here. The work doesn’t stop now. It’s going to be full push to also own my spot in IndyCar and prove myself there.”

Carpenter confirmed that the intention is for this to be a multi-year deal if all goes well, acknowledging that it is most fair to allow drivers time to establish their full potential. It has been made clear that both parties were very keen to make this deal happen, with Carpenter actually initiating the first contact ahead of testing with the team.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Rasmussen added when asked by DIVEBOMB whether other options were on the table if things weren’t to work out with ECR. “I got the opportunity with Ed early on. I thought that would be a great fit for me. So we were pursuing that before anything else.

“It seemed like seats were filling up super, super quick as well. You know how silly season works in IndyCar. I had this opportunity to do this early on, thought it would be a great fit for me, and pursued that. I did the test and it kind of worked out from there.”

Credit: Chris Owens

Why is Carpenter ride-sharing the No.20?

Carpenter has run an oval-only programme for the last 10 years of his 21-year IndyCar career, albeit in recent times this has been driving an independent entry for the team. He returns to the No.20 car next year after cutting to only two entries for the oval races, barring the Indy 500, where the team are managing to constantly deliver a front-running package.

“Really a lot of it was just taking an assessment of where we were and how the year went, what went well and what didn’t, how do we take a step forward,” Carpenter said to start a very thorough explanation when questioned about why ECR have ‘slimmed down’. “The series is so competitive now from top to bottom.

“For us, it was as much as anything about making sure we’re using the resources that we have with all of our personnel and cars and preparation and putting our best foot forward. We staffed up more last year for the third car than we had in the past, but that’s still probably less than what other two-car teams would average.”

Essentially, Carpenter is trying to focus his attention on the team improving as a two-car operation without the added distraction of the additional car in a select number of races.

“As much as anything, we weren’t happy with how we performed last year overall,” he continued. “Doing the same exact thing again wasn’t going to be the ultimate fix. If we could have got enough additions into the team on all sides of things from engineering down through the mechanics, maybe we could have come to a different conclusion.

“The competition just isn’t on track, it’s off track as well. It’s very hard to get new people into the building and away from other teams. This is a solution that allows us to be more focused and hopefully come back stronger in 2024, which is the plan.”

Credit: Joe Skibinski

When could we see Rasmussen with an oval deal?

Rasmussen is inevitably excited to get his opportunity to race the one oval - the Indy 500 - next year, calling it the biggest race of his career to date. But he has a mature head on his shoulders and will not let himself get too carried away.

“I think to kind of let that get in my head this early on I think might not be beneficial,” he said, speaking of the Month of May. “Right now I’m just focusing on the task ahead, which is getting to know the car, getting to know the team, and getting up to speed in an IndyCar. Come May, we’ll start focusing on that.”

Carpenter was asked whether it is feasible to believe Rasmussen could be seen on ovals later in the year - in either a third entry or for another team - but that hasn’t yet been a consideration. “I’d say it’s unlikely that we would be comfortable having him run with another team. It’s early enough that there’s always potential to add to the program that we have if the situation presents itself over time and we’re able to do that.”

The goal is to eventually transition to a full schedule for Rasmussen, who does have race-winning experience on short ovals from his junior exploits. “Certainly the long-term goal is to have him running a full-time schedule, so we’ll see how that develops,” Carpenter confirmed. “Right now, this is the plan.”


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