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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.

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500