MRTI: Pigot, Enerson take Winterfest titles; Brabham leads Lights testing

1 Comment

The 2014 Cooper Tires Winterfest for the Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 series is in the books. After New Orleans got the party started last week, the series concluded after two days at Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Spencer Pigot (Juncos Racing) and 2013 USF2000 champion Scott Hargrove (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) won the pair of Pro Mazda class races, with Pigot’s fourth top-two finish in as many races enough to secure him his second career Winterfest title. He also took the 2012 USF2000 Winterfest crown, winning five of six races that year driving for Cape.

“The Cooper Tires Winterfest has been great,” Pigot said. “I worked really well with the team and they did an awesome job all week. We won two races, were fastest every session on track and took every pole position so we can’t be disappointed with that. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going and keep the car up at the front in the main season. We will still be working hard to improve as we head into St. Petersburg, but I can’t thank them enough for all of their hard work this week.”

In USF2000, Englishman Michael Epps won Tuesday’s pair of races for Belardi Auto Racing while RC Enerson of Team E took the Wednesday win, and the young 16-year-old from New Port Richey, Fla. had enough to secure the USF2000 Winterfest title.

“It was a great race today. I made a good start and just held my own in the race,” Enerson said after the race win. “To win the championship is just amazing. I want to carry this with me into the season and, hopefully, use this momentum to good effect in St. Pete and try to go for the regular season championship.”

Matthew Brabham, who has won the Pro Mazda and USF2000 regular season championships the last two years, ended on top in the two days of Indy Lights testing in his Andretti Autosport entry. Over two cold days on the 2.3-mile road course in Birmingham, Ala., the series rookie ended with a flier of 1:15.160.

Belardi’s Gabby Chaves ended second at 1:15.461 with Schmidt Peterson’s Luiz Razia third at 1:15.522. Neither is yet confirmed for the full season, but both have enjoyed multiple tests with these same teams this winter.

Meanwhile the second Andretti car (Zach Veach) and second SPM car (Jack Harvey) rounded out the top five.

All three series will kick off their regular seasons in St. Petersburg on the undercard to IndyCar, March 28-30. Indy Lights will have a single race while both Pro Mazda and USF2000 will have double-headers.

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
Leave a comment

You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski