Hunter-Reay: “We’re going to put on a great show at Pocono”

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Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has praised Pocono Raceway and says the Verizon IndyCar Series will put on a fantastic show this weekend (Sunday, noon ET, NBCSN).

It potentially could be the last one, based on a report from the Associated Press released Thursday that track president Brandon Igdalsky is concerned about a severe drop in projected ticket sales. The track is on a three-year contract to host the series; this is year two of that contract.

But considering the show Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and the rest of the field put on at Indy, that ticket drop really shouldn’t be happening.

“I’ve said it in the past: Pocono is a racetrack that fits IndyCar racing and its current spec, fits it to a T,” Hunter-Reay said during this week’s IndyCar conference call. “We’re going to put on a great show there.”

He also praised the market, which in Pennsylvania is key to the Northeast and one of the few remaining IndyCar races in this region.

“The added bonus is we’re in the right market,” Hunter-Reay said. “We need to be putting on our races there, IndyCar does. Pocono, it was a major part of the schedule back in the day, and it seems to be that now it is again.

“So hopefully the fans will receive us well there. If we keep on putting on great shows, there’s no reason it can’t work. I think this one’s going to be a 500-mile race that will come down to the wire just like Indy did.”

Winning at Indy was one thing, but delivering again for the second double points 500-mile race is another challenge entirely.

“Pocono is a completely different animal than Indianapolis. They’re both very long, and that’s about all they have in common,” Hunter-Reay said. “The two tracks require different setups. They drive differently.

“The dirty air has a certain effect on the car in turn three. It makes it hard to follow; makes it hard to set up passes. You really have to work on your racecar. You have to make it actually balance well in turn one and turn three, which is a difficult thing to do.

“To set up passes is an entirely different exercise at Pocono than it is at Indy. You’ve got to focus on different parts of the track than you would at Indianapolis, and that means a different car. It’s also a different tire, different tire compound from Firestone.

“There are many aspects and variables that go into it that make it a different beast than Indianapolis.”

Hunter-Reay seeks to rebound after contact with Takuma Sato in the pit lane last year took both drivers out of contention.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

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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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