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.”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds