IndyCar: Hunter-Reay captures his second straight Barber race (VIDEO)

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Ryan Hunter-Reay erased a frustrating Long Beach weekend with an authoritative drive in the third round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, as he repeated his 2013 win at Barber Motorsports Park.

But there were differences. This one didn’t require a late pass for the win, came from third on the grid rather than pole, and featured a Honda rather than a Chevrolet powering his DHL Andretti Autosport entry.

It also ended under yellow following an accident for Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports SMP Racing Honda, as he ran wide at Turn 14 and hit the tire barriers hard with just more than six minutes to go.

Hunter-Reay cycled back to the lead following the second round of pit stops, a green flag round after four cautions for 12 laps flew during the first 55 laps. He led 40 of 69 laps.

“I had such a blast, it was a bummer we ended under yellow, what a dream to win with a Honda at a Honda-sponsored race,” Hunter-Reay said to NBCSN’s Kevin Lee in victory lane. “Last week it should have been a great result. Firestones to the wets, blacks and reds, they did a great job. The race kind of dragged on at the end, but it was tough for everybody today. (Switching to slicks) was horrible for everybody – it was like ice skating with sneakers on.”

The win makes RHR the third different winner in as many races to open the season. Marco Andretti in second made it an Andretti Autosport 1-2, the team’s first since Iowa last season.

“I’m really proud of this whole team – Marco drove his whole way to the front. Feels good after Long Beach,” team principal Michael Andretti told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis. “The race came to us. It was a good day.”

Added Marco Andretti to NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast, “It was an awesome job by Andretti Autosport. We didn’t have much for the DHL car, but it was a heck of a team effort.”

Scott Dixon in third took his first podium finish of the season. Long Beach sparring partners Simon Pagenaud and Will Power rounded out the top five, continuing their streak of ending in the top five in all three races this season. Power’s off in the early stages of the race cost him a likely win.

Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball rounded out the top 10.

Power leads Hunter-Reay, 125 to 107, in the points standings unofficially. Pagenaud is third, 33 back.

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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