Spencer Pigot welcomes a second Verizon IndyCar Series season with far less uncertainty.
So much was unknown in his rookie year, including himself, as the Floridian, then 22, tried to acclimate himself to learning pit stops, utilizing different tires, lengthier races and driving for two teams with different engines. Pigot put his $1 million Mazda scholarship for winning the 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship toward a three-race deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Honda-powered outfit, including the Indianapolis 500. A week after driving in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Pigot was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, where he drove in seven road- and street-course races.
Pigot didn’t anticipate just how steep the learning curve would be, but intends to show he’s a quick learner when returning to Ed Carpenter’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on road and street courses this season.
“I’ve always dreamed and worked towards being in the Verizon IndyCar Series, so to finally be able to make that jump was really exciting,” Pigot said. “I started off with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which was a great experience. I had a lot of really good people to work with and learn with over there, being teammates with Graham (Rahal) and then having Bobby (Rahal, team co-owner) to talk to in the month of May was really important for me.
“It was kind of weird to switch teams halfway through the season and go straight into a race weekend with Ed Carpenter Racing, but again, I think that it was again a great experience, really good teammates with Josef (Newgarden) and Ed, really good engineers and mechanics to work with. We had some good races. I obviously need to work on a few things. As a rookie, there’s a lot of stuff that I needed to learn.”
Pigot’s best results in 10 total starts came on permanent road course: seventh in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio and ninth in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America.
“I had never done pit stops, having the different compounds in tires, the length of the races, it was all new to me,” he said. “I think I got a lot more comfortable with that as the season went on. I think we can definitely hit the ground running and build off everything we did last year.”
Pigot and Carpenter agreed on 2017 contract terms in January, which provides the young driver time to prepare. He and JR Hildebrand tested in the ECR cars last week at Sonoma Raceway, a luxury he didn’t have that last year. Pigot said he’s also being considered for a third Ed Carpenter Racing entry in May’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by Penn Grade Motor Oil.
“I think it’s going to be a big improvement for me, just knowing what to expect in terms of an Indy car race weekend, how it all unfolds, how every single practice session and every single outing is so important to keep evolving the car and getting used to everything to keep up with the pace,” Pigot said. “The pace is just rapidly improving all the time and, if you want to keep up with it, you have to just be pushing non-stop every lap. I know that now. I know kind of what to expect in qualifying and what to expect in the races, how they can be so unpredictable at times.”
He recalled his series debut with the Rahal team in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where he qualified 21st and finished 14th.
“The first race in St. Pete, it was all happening super quick. I felt like the weekend flew by and I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I think I can understand the weekend a little bit more, prepare better and that first year is going to be really important steppingstones for this season.”
Pigot looks forward to setting up the car more to his liking. As a rookie, he mostly relied on information from his experienced teammates because there was so much he didn’t know.
Another example of needing to familiarize himself was the use of Firestone alternate tires, which becomes more important this season when teams will be given an extra set of the red-sidewall Firehawks.
“That was one area I struggled with last year, getting used to the reds in qualifying, so especially as a rookie, it would have been nice to have them last year,” he said. “But, that’s OK. At least I get another shot this year. It’s so tough going into qualifying having never been on the reds before because so many things can change.”
Pigot credited the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder program for properly preparing him to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He won a record total of 24 races in five seasons of MRTI competition at all three levels, earning four Mazda scholarships and the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires along the way.
“The Mazda Road to Indy was obviously vital to my career,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t be here without it, without the support of Mazda, Cooper Tire, everyone involved; (Andersen Promotions owner/CEO) Dan Andersen, all the hard work they put in to try to create this ladder system to reward people for winning championships. I was fortunate to win a few scholarships throughout the ladder and it just helped my whole career.
“Not only does it help you move up, but you get to learn the tracks, you get to learn kind of what it’s like to be part of a big event, a big INDYCAR weekend. That’s one less thing you have to learn when you’re in INDYCAR. Still, the tracks are a little bit different when you’re going 180 and 190 miles per hour (in an Indy car) versus an Indy Lights or Pro Mazda car. Still, there’s so many new things to get used to, once you make that step up it’s nice to have one common ground, which is the circuit. I think that’s a big plus.”
Pigot returns to the scene of his Verizon IndyCar Series debut for the 2017 season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from March 10-12. The race on March 12 airs live at noon ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.