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Synergy between Rahal, Andersen provides Pigot his landing spot for 2016

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The seeds for Spencer Pigot’s landing place in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing were sown years ago.

For one, Pigot’s been working up to this moment for years, particularly over the last five seasons in the Mazda Road to Indy and having achieved four Mazda scholarships in his racing career. Pigot had caught Bobby Rahal’s eye along the way.

“To begin, I met Spencer’s father (Barry) many years ago. He always kept me in the loop as to what was going on with Spencer,” Rahal told reporters during a media teleconference Tuesday. “Then once he started racing on the same weekends (as the Verizon IndyCar Series), we’ve seen what he can do. Pretty impressive. I always thought he went about his craft in a great way.

“After winning Pro Mazda, then this year in Indy Lights, pretty good crowd (of competitors) in Indy Lights. I saw some of the races and I thought he really used his head. I think that’s so important.

“Talked to Dan (Andersen) when he sent out the RFP, and here we are. But clearly we hope that this isn’t limited to just three races. Obviously funding plays a role for anybody, any team, but we’ve already received some interest. So the goal here is to run Spencer as much as we can in 2016.”

And for another one, Rahal and Dan Andersen have had a long history together, dating to when the two were partners in an Indy Lights team in 2008-2009 and when Andersen ran Bobby Rahal’s son Graham back when he was a precocious teenager in Star Mazda (now Pro Mazda) himself.

“Bobby and I had an affiliation, a partnership, if you will, a number of years ago in Indy Lights,” Andersen said. “I’m well aware of his operation. I actually ran my Indy Lights team when I was a team owner out of his Ohio shop.

“Graham drove for my Star Mazda team back in the day. We go back a ways. I have a lot of respect for the Rahal organization. The performance they showed last year was strong. The package he put together was attractive.”

Andersen noted it was his choice for Pigot to go with RLL for what will begin as a three-race program, but with the goal and intent of doing more races.

“We did have interest from a number of teams but, frankly, Bobby’s proposal and the résumé that is his team spoke volumes to me,” Andersen said. “We wanted the right thing for Spencer. There are a lot of options out there, but this is a package that we think Spencer can really shine in his debut performances. It was very important to us not to simply put him in a car, but to put him in the right car.”

Rahal added to that sentiment.

“We had been speaking with Dan Andersen about the whole program,” Rahal said. “I think we thought, first off, that Spencer has a lot of potential. He’s certainly proven that every step of the way. I thought that these three events, that we could do those and do them well. The last thing I want to do is do them poorly, then Spencer ends up bearing the brunt of that. That’s not good.

“I think the team is in real good shape after last year. These three events were easy for us to do with personnel, the fact that two of them are in Indianapolis, and it seemed like a good starting point for me.”

Pigot is unlikely to test for RLL before the end of the calendar year, not for lack of want, but more to ensure when he does test that it’s with the 2016 aerodynamic package.

“We’re so limited that we want to make sure that when we do the testing, that the car is in the spec it’s going to be in when you actually are going to compete with it,” Rahal explained. “As you know, I’m sure the parts availability and what have you on the Honda aero kit, I’m sure it will be much more timely this year. I think everybody learned a lesson on that front last year.

“There’s really no point in going to test if the car isn’t where you think it’s going to be come race day. We want to make sure from an aero standpoint (that) we are where we need to be, frankly.”

Pigot has had one half day’s running in an IndyCar thus far, back in August at Sonoma Raceway with Team Penske. The 22-year-old Floridian said he’s happy to have had at least a baseline test before his next running, likely to be in early 2016.

“At least I know more or less the process of the car, driving style,” Pigot said. “I learned a lot at Sonoma which I can continue to work on and build from. So, yeah, just really looking forward to the first test and getting back in the car.”

The second car for RLL has been on-and-off since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis in 2012.

Takuma Sato ran as a single-car entry in 2012, with Michel Jourdain Jr. added as a second car for the Indianapolis 500. RLL ran a full two-car program for Graham Rahal and James Jakes in 2013, with Jourdain added again as a third car at Indianapolis. In 2014, a second car ran in eight total races: Oriol Servia for four, and Luca Filippi for four.  Servia ran the second car at the Indianapolis 500 only this year.

The goal for all parties is to see Pigot continue for more than just the at least three races planned, funding pending.

For Pigot, starting in a part-time situation could turn golden.

Will Power ran a partial season with Team Penske in 2009, winning once, with the ride growing into a full-time opportunity the following year. Meanwhile Ryan Hunter-Reay was signed to an initial partial-season deal with Andretti Autosport in 2010; an early win at Long Beach and further funding allowed it to become a full-time ride.

Both, years later, are Verizon IndyCar Series champions entrenched in full-time rides, with Hunter-Reay having added an Indianapolis 500 win in 2014 to his resume.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.