The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a case of “what might have been” for Verizon IndyCar Series sophomore Spencer Pigot.
The Ed Carpenter Racing driver started 13th, avoided the spinning car of Graham Rahal and the wounded cars of Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz, and then made a series of great passes to run fifth during the opening stint.
However, it all came undone under the second caution period. The caution itself was going to hurt the team’s strategy, but a much bigger problem emerged when smoke began billowing from the left-rear corner of his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.
The left-rear brake rotor had begun to malfunction and eventually exploded as he entered his pit stall. He rejoined the race after losing several laps while undergoing repairs, but the team eventually retired the car when it became apparent they wouldn’t gain more positions by continuing.
Still, despite the disappointing result, Pigot was upbeat about the overall performance.
“It was fun!” he told NBC Sports afterward. “The pace was there, we definitely made improvements Saturday night into Sunday. All the hard work we did in the off-season is starting to pay off and we’re fighting a lot higher up the grid, which is what the goal was in the first place.”
Pigot is also boosted by the continuity with Ed Carpenter Racing. Last year, he made his debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but was only on a three-race deal and had nothing confirmed beyond the Indianapolis 500.
He joined the Ed Carpenter-led team at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, but switching teams mid-season is hardly ideal. The switch was made all the more difficult by a change in manufacturers. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing runs Hondas, while Ed Carpenter Racing runs Chevrolets. The manufacturer shift meant his learning curve was compounded even further and he struggled to find pace all year.
Returning to Ed Carpenter Racing allows the 23-year-old to build on relationships he built with the team. And while he is not yet a full-time driver (Pigot is running the road/street races for the No. 20 effort, with Ed Carpenter again assuming driving duties at the oval races), competing with the same team and knowing he’ll run most of the races make him much more comfortable.
“It’s nice to know I’m pretty much going to be in every race this year. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. The goal is to obviously be here full-time and this is the first step. I’m very happy to be back with the team and they did a great job this weekend.”
While the Verizon IndyCar Series is off until the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 7-9), Pigot will not sit idle. He will rejoin Mazda Racing’s program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at at next week’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. He will again be a co-driver on the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P entry, partnering Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito.