Baron, Celis, Telitz lead Road to Indy Barber test

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The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at Barber Motorsports Park is in the books for all of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000. This test marked the first time all three series ran together while on Cooper Tires, as Indy Lights makes the switch this offseason ahead of 2014, and all under the Andersen Promotions umbrella.

As he did on his USF2000 debut in Monterey, when he won in his first start at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Frenchman Alexandre Baron led the timesheets in Indy Lights with a best lap of 1:15.726. Andretti Autosport teammates Zach Veach (1:16.026) and Matthew Brabham (1:16.234) were next up over the times combined from two days. Four other drivers tested.

Baron (pictured) will drive for Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights in 2014; he won two of his four USF2000 starts this season. And no, he’s not the same driver as 1997 Formula Atlantic champion Alex Barron, who drove portions of nine seasons between IndyCar and CART.

In Pro Mazda, Mexican rookie Alfonso Celis upset the regulars with a best lap of 1:20.490 driving for Juncos Racing. One-time race winners in 2013, Shelby Blackstock (Andretti) and Spencer Pigot (Juncos) were next up at 1:20.698 and 1:21.034, respectively. Neither Celis nor Pigot has a confirmed deal yet for 2014, while Blackstock, son of country music star Reba McIntyre, will lead Andretti’s Pro Mazda effort in his second season.

The two who dueled for the USF2000 championship in 2013, Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, clocked in 11th and 12th of the 18 testing.

Skip Barber Race Series Scholarship Shootout winner Aaron Telitz led the USF2000 field in testing driving for Afterburner Autosport, with a best lap of 1:23.283. Cape’s USF2000 driver, Jake Eidson, was second at 1:23.381 with one of Belardi’s four confirmed drivers, Nico Jamin, third at 1:23.598. 20 drivers tested for seven teams in USF2000.

Cold temperatures means this won’t be a great foreshadowing of the spring, when Indy Lights races there in April, but might be a good forecast for the Cooper Tire Winterfest for the races at Barber on February 25-26, 2014. The Winterfest will also be held at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans Feb. 21-22.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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