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Pigot confirmed full-time with Carpenter

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Spencer Pigot has been close to a full-time seat in the Verizon IndyCar Series for at least a couple months now, and has been confirmed today by Ed Carpenter Racing for that to become a reality.

The team release with full information is below.

After two seasons as the road and street course driver of Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20, Spencer Pigot will move to the No. 21 in 2018 and race full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The 23-year-old’s first full season of Indy car competition is the next step in a career which has seen him collect multiple championships along the Mazda Road to Indy prior to joinin­­­g ECR during the 2016 season. In 2017, Pigot became the first driver to retain the road and street course seat of the No. 20 for a second year and will continue with ECR as the driver of the No. 21 for the entirety of the 2018 season.

“To say I am excited about 2018 would be an understatement. I have really enjoyed my time so far with Ed Carpenter Racing and this is the next step in what I hope is a long, successful partnership with the team in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Pigot. “I am very thankful to Ed Carpenter, Tony George, Stuart Reed and everyone at ECR for their confidence in me to deliver the results the team deserves. It is a privilege to represent Fuzzy’s Vodka, Preferred Freezer Services, Direct Supply and all of the other partners of ECR in 2018.”

In his sophomore season, Pigot’s name has become synonymous with the ability to race his way through the field. He is credited with over 50 on-track passes for position this year, but unfortunate circumstances have limited him to three Top 10 finishes. He was running 5th in St. Petersburg when a brake rotor ignited; a misfire of the engine at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dropped him from 6th; and he had climbed to 8th at Road America when he had to make two lengthy pit stops for repairs to the suspension. In Toronto, Pigot gained seven positions in the first 15 green flag laps but was relegated to the rear of the field after one of his tires was cut by another competitor. He has continually improved throughout the season, matching his best qualifying position to date just two weeks ago at Watkins Glen International and leading the first laps of his Indy car career.

“It is very exciting to be announcing that Spencer will be competing in a full-time role for ECR in 2018. Spencer made significant strides from his rookie season into his sophomore year and we see much more potential in his ability,” stated Ed Carpenter, the only owner/driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Carpenter continued, “Spencer has worked very hard to improve in all areas of his driving and we feel the time has come to give him a chance to compete for the championship. I look forward to his continued development and reaching the top step of the podium in 2018.”

All but four of Pigot’s 21 Indy car starts have been with Ed Carpenter Racing. The Orlando, Fla. native was awarded a three-race scholarship after winning the 2015 Indy Lights championship, which was carried out with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. After competing in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 with RLLR, Pigot joined ECR as road and street course driver of the No. 20 for the remainder of the 2016 season. He retained that role for 2017, the first driver to do so since the ride became a shared seat with Carpenter in 2014. Since the No. 20 is piloted by Carpenter in the Indianapolis 500, Pigot reunited with Juncos Racing in May of 2017 for the opportunity to race in the legendary event for the second time. Pigot’s 2015 Indy Lights title and 2014 Pro Mazda championship came while competing for Juncos.

Though he has not been behind the wheel, Pigot has attended every oval event with ECR since joining the team in 2016. In an effort to learn as much as possible, Pigot has been on Carpenter’s timing stand during each practice and qualifying session and has observed the races from the spotter’s stand. Outside of Indy car, Pigot has continued to hone his skills by competing for Mazda Racing in the endurance races of the IMSA Weather Tech Sports Car Championship.

Pigot is looking forward to racing alongside Carpenter for the first time as both his team owner and teammate. “I will still have a lot to learn as 2018 will be my first full season in Indy car, but I know I have the team and teammate with Ed to help me as I get used to regularly racing on ovals again.” Carpenter will continue to drive the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet on ovals in 2018 for what will be his 16th year of Indy car competition. The road and street course program for the No. 20 is still under consideration.

At the most recent event at Watkins Glen International, Ed Carpenter Racing celebrated its 100th race. Formed in late 2011, ECR entered the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2012. The team has proven its versatility by collecting seven wins on each type of track the series competes on – street and road courses, short ovals and speedways. ECR Chevrolets have started on the front row of the Indianapolis 500 four of the past five years, including Carpenter’s two pole positions in 2013 and 2014 and this year’s qualifying effort that landed him in the middle of the front row. The Speedway, Ind.-based team has 22 Top 5 finishes to date, 17 of which have been podiums.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this weekend with 85 laps around the natural terrain road course of Sonoma Raceway. The GoPro Grand Prix will take place on Sunday, September 17, then Carpenter and Pigot will begin an extensive off-season testing program to prepare for 2018’s universal aero kit.

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

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One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

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SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

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Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.