What’s The Problem At SFR?

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I feel as if I should throw out a disclaimer that I started to not write about this, because all involved are fan-favorites, myself included. Some will accuse me of kicking someone while they are down or doing a “hack-job” as one commenter posted about me at one point last season. Please understand that I get no real joy out of writing this, but it is a topic that I think needs exploring.

One of the unspoken subjects of the IZOD IndyCar Series season has been the disappearing act of Sarah Fisher Racing. Granted, this is still a part-time effort this season, but things appear to be stuck in reverse at SFR.

Things started out with such promise this season. The first race with Ed Carpenter in the seat of the Dollar General Dallara was the Indianapolis 500. Carpenter was fast all week leading up to Pole Day qualifying. For the second year in a row, Carpenter found himself in the top-nine of the new format. For two years running, Ed Carpenter started eighth for the Indianapolis 500. It appeared he had brought new life to Sarah Fisher’s team that had struggled mightily at Indianapolis the year before.

Unfortunately, Ed was not much of a factor on Race Day and finished a very quiet eleventh in the race. We all thought the team would be equally fast at Texas, but it was not to be. Ed finished eighteenth in the first of the two twins, and sixteenth in the second. Milwaukee found Carpenter struggling near the back of the field for most of the weekend, but he managed another sixteenth place finish. At Iowa, Carpenter almost cracked the top-ten with an eleventh place finish, ditto for the controversial race at New Hampshire. But in the road courses, it has been predictably bad – since neither team nor driver does particularly well on road/street courses. After three appearances on non-ovals, Carpenter had his best result last week – a twentieth place finish at Baltimore.

Sarah Fisher officially retired from the cockpit last fall, and is expecting her first child shortly. Those of us that have followed this sport for a while have always been impressed with how she handled herself both in and out of the car. We followed her as a young nineteen year-old racing for Derrick Walker in the fledgling IRL. We watched as she won the pole at Kentucky and booed as Eliseo Salazar criticized her driving and attacked the female gender as a whole. We tried to support every sponsor she courted in her never-ending search for sponsorship. We welcomed her back from her sabbatical as she attempted to run stock cars in the Winston West series. Finally, we cheered her on as she started her own team from scratch in order to prolong her struggling career.

Along the way, we somehow felt partially invested in Sarah. Having watched her grow up and witness her ups and downs, we felt that we knew her personally. When she started her own team, the common phrase was “she is doing it the right way”. Every move she and husband Andy O’Gara made seemed methodical and well thought out. Even when she announced her retirement from driving and named Ed Carpenter as her replacement, it seemed as though every angle had been thoroughly examined and planned out.

So why have the results been sub-par? Sarah appears to be happy with Carpenter’s efforts and their results and Ed speaks likewise of the team, but I wonder how that could be. As mentioned earlier, neither the team nor Ed Carpenter is comfortable on non-ovals – and that’s being kind. Would they have done better to seek out a driver with a more balanced resume? Has the team done their part to give Ed Carpenter a car that matches his talents on ovals? Is Dollar General content to be a mid-pack car on good days and a backmarker on others? Is it the car or the driver?

SFR is not going to make the trip to Motegi next week, which means there are only two races left in their season; Kentucky and Las Vegas – both ovals. Sarah and Ed have both done extremely well at Kentucky. For the past two seasons, Ed has finished second in the Commonwealth – coming within just a few inches of beating Ryan Briscoe to the line in 2009. He certainly knows his way around the track at Kentucky. If he is well off the pace at Kentucky, I think we’ll know that the problem doesn’t lie with the driver.

So if it is the team – why is that? Their primary Dallara is not one of the older, heavier versions that Simona de Silvestro is relegated to. Dollar General went out and bought SFR one of the newer, lighter versions just a couple of years ago. Andy O’Gara is certainly capable and qualified to put the right people in place to get the car set up right, so what exactly is the problem? This isn’t some trick question where I’ll divulge my opinion in the next paragraph – I really don’t know.

Although another driver has been considered the most popular driver in recent years, most true fans of this sport still consider Sarah Fisher to be the most popular among real racing fans – even though she no longer drives. Old-timers like myself still pull for AJ Foyt Racing out of respect for what the old man once was and a desire to see him on top just one more time. Fans also pull for Sarah Fisher Racing because we watched her grow up and blossom into a full-fledged businesswoman who has gone through her share of hard knocks. She has taken her lumps and persevered when others may have given up.

So, I’m not writing this out of meanness or to stir up controversy. I’m simply wondering why it’s not happening for Sarah and her team. Now that SFR appears to be on the cusp of fielding a car for a full season, we want to see her put those final pieces together and be competitive. It is frustrating and perplexing for us as fans to sit by and watch it not happen.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “What’s The Problem At SFR?”

  1. Awesome, you rolled your hate of Japan, Ed Carpenter, and Sarah Fisher into one column.

  2. Nothing against Ed, but if I’m starting a team in this series I’d like to have a driver who’s at least as comfortable on twisties as on ovals. The way the series is going there’s only going to be one oval anyway.

  3. OK, all joking aside, I agree. After the month of May I thought for sure that SFR was finally getting it all put together. I’m bummed to see their results.

    Now in their defense, I haven’t seen any part time, small $ teams show well on ovals this year. Even DRR seemed to take a step back. It seems to me that success on ovals is directly proportional to budget these days. The only tracks that are conducive to a small team competing with the big guys are the twisty’s, and like you said, it’s not Ed’s thing.

    I hate to put more hope on the new chassis / engine package, but I hope it shakes things up and gives teams liek Foyt and SFR a chance to compete.

  4. Brian from NY Says:

    I hate to break it to you George, but I would have been surprised if SFR had any good finishes. You have a driver thats had two podium finishes in over 100 races and a owner that hasn’t done much better. Ed has benifited by having a father in law that supported his racing despite the lack of talent.
    Sarah I’m sure gets money from Tony to keep Ed in the seat. What other reason would you keep him there? Unless, she wants to change drivers, that team will have about as much chance to win as pigs do to fly. They have good cars, but there is issues with the driver and the team.

    • They just need time. It’s a team that’s learning the ropes on a limited budget. The fact that they challenged as well as they did at Indy in one of the deepest fields in recent history speaks well of them.

      As for Ed Carpenter, it’s true, he hasn’t had any wins yet. But he’s had some good races (26 Top 10s, including a number of Top 5s), and has evolved into an oval ace, as we’ve seen at Indy and Kentucky over the past couple of years. He definitely needs some work (along with SFR) on the twisties, but cheers to them for at least trying a few this year. You don’t get better without practice.

      • I Sara is able to buy two tubs next year and runs Ed on the ovals and a young guy like Jonathan Summerton or John Edwards on the twisties and then both at the 500. But of course … sponsorship.

  5. I though her new tub was provided by a oil company in Texas?

  6. I have realized that I haven’t been thinking about SFR or Ed Carpenter since the 500. When Miller did his pre-race “run through the grid” and stopped by Ed and Tony George my only thought was where have you been? Frankly, I stopped paying attention to SFR and Ed which, I think, is not good. I had rather have an emotion like dissapointment generated than to have no feelings on the subject at all. I’ll work on it.

  7. Really? She is new to this. That’s your reason. Why should she be as good as someone who has been in the motir sports for decades? What teams do you think SFR should be able to race with? What top engineers want to be employed part time? Why would she learn 10 years worth of data in 2 part time years? Why have a IRL driver in your car when were thankfully back to the CART days? Things might be different with the new car, but you need to be full time for more seat time and you need a world class driver, not an oval specialist. And most of all, you need $$$.

    • Steve K: If we’re back to the Cart days, then I suspect we’ll soon have the Indy 500 and noting else. That dog won’t hunt any better than it did in the two previous incarnations.

  8. I hate to always blame underfunding for poor performances from small teams, but that seems to be the popular choice here. After Hinchtown almost ran out of money at Mid Ohio, I can’t imagine Sprott is spending Target or Verizon money at Newman Haas. We all saw some of Simona’s drives with iffy funding last year. Seabass has certainly delivered in excess of his sponsor’s investment recently. But Newman Haas has years of experience that will always deliver in excess of their funding, Simona had Michael Cannon, Seabass is Seabass. It’s about the right people, experience, and chemistry. Sarah does not have the experience running a team, bringing the right people together, and creating the chemistry. I don’t know who is engineering, but it’s obviously not a Michael Cannon or I’d at least have an idea who it was, and Ed Carpenter is no Hinch, Seabass, or Servia, though on the right oval on the right day, he can deliver. The right combination of people with the right leadership can overdeliver on a given budget. Certain brilliant drivers or engineers can deliver results far in excess of their equipment. I love Sarah and SFR, but I think the results are about what is expected, Indy was the exception.

  9. I think it’s ‘cuz of the radiation in Japan.

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