Indy Lights: Pigot powers to pole in Barber

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It’s a big weekend for the Mazda Road to Indy this weekend, with each of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series having two races.

Indy Lights qualifying occurred today; the series’ recap is below:

After 40 minutes of almost constant shuffling of positions at the top of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires pack, Spencer Pigot and Juncos Racing claimed the pole position for the first of two races that will comprise this weekend’s Legacy Indy Lights 100 at Barber Motorsports Park.

The honor came as some kind of redemption for Pigot, who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, along with a MAZDASPEED scholarship to graduate into Indy Lights, and seemed to have the pole within his grasp one week ago on the streets of Long Beach, only to be edged in the dying moments by Jack Harvey.

This time his team made sure that Pigot ventured out onto the challenging and undulating 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park ahead of his main rival, and Pigot responded with a lap at 1:12.3865. Pigot’s effort showed the effectiveness of the new Mazda MZR-R-powered Dallara IL-15 by circulating a full 1.5 seconds inside the previous Indy Lights lap record.

Harvey, driving for seven-time Indy Lights championship-winning team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, also improved his time in the closing minutes but ended up 0.2505 seconds shy in second place. Championship leader Ed Jones (Carlin) will share Row Two of the grid with Pigot’s teammate, Kyle Kaiser, followed by Schmidt Peterson’s RC Enerson, who led the way for a healthy portion of another thrilling 40-minute session, and the second Carlin Dallara-Mazda of ex-Formula 1 racer Max Chilton.

The first of two Indy Lights Legacy 100 races this weekend will start tomorrow afternoon at 2:50 p.m., and the one-hour Race Two “feature” event on Sunday, April 26, at 12:10 p.m., immediately before the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event. All times are local. Live timing and commentary for all sessions will be available on the new Mazda Road to Indy App with live streaming at racecontrol.indycar.com.

Spencer Pigot #12 Mazda/Doug Mockett & Company/Rising Star Racing/The Stutz/BAD/OMP-Juncos Racing): “My team really wanted me to get out in front of Jack. We didn’t want anyone in front of us. We wanted clean air because that’s where we get the optimum downforce. The guys worked really hard today in the changing conditions. There wasn’t much rubber on the track for our first practice this morning, then in the afternoon it got quite hot, which made the track much greasier and changed the balance of the car. It cooled down again for qualifying, so it was a real mix of conditions and setup changes. It was a lot of work throughout qualifying to make that last run as good as it could be. The plan tomorrow will be to stay in front of Jack. This is not an easy place to pass, but you can get around on the outside in Turn One so I have to try to stay ahead of him.”

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”