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Pigot, Carpenter deal came together quickly

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DETROIT – Though Spencer Pigot has been a regular fixture at each of the first six Verizon IndyCar Series races, he’s only been able to drive in three of them.

That situation changes now for most of the rest of the season, with at least seven of the 10 remaining races confirmed with Ed Carpenter Racing.

Although Pigot’s program with Carpenter to run at least the remaining road and street course races this season was announced Thursday morning, this has actually been in the works for a couple months.

“This came together quickly,” Art Wilmes, principal of Rising Star Racing, the private motorsports initiative that supports young American drivers, told NBC Sports on Thursday in Detroit.

“We’ve been working on Spencer for a while to get him the rest of the season. At Barber, I saw him just walking around without much to do besides his media commitments, and it was a case where we wanted to get him more races.”

Rising Star Racing has helped develop the program for Pigot, who ran his first three races on the Mazda scholarship with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, to then move to Carpenter’s program.

Wilmes told NBC Sports the three remaining oval races are “not out of the question” for Pigot, but would require another chassis to become available as a third car, and is doubtful at best for Texas Motor Speedway next week.

Rising Star Racing logos will appear on the flow conditioners in front of the sidepods, with Wilmes using this weekend as a chance to grow the brand and facilitate future partnership opportunities for a potentially revised look to the No. 20 Chevrolet later this season.

The standard green Fuzzy’s Vodka adorns the car this weekend. Pigot took part in a quick “welcome to the team” photo shoot trying to shoot a golf ball, in deference to Fuzzy Zoeller.

For team principal Carpenter, who’s confirmed in the car for the three remaining oval races at Texas, Iowa and Pocono, the decision to bring Pigot on board was a natural one.

“I’d watched him last year anyway because of his relationship with Josef (Rising Star Racing ambassador), and paid attention to him,” Carpenter told NBC Sports.

“He’s a smart driver who’s moved up well in his career.”

The No. 20 car – which initially had only been pegged for the five oval races – is, according to Carpenter, not part of the Leaders Circle program for 2016.

The reasoning is that the 21 full-time entrants were the only ones who applied to the program this year, and the two confirmed part-time entries, the No. 20 car and what had been Pigot’s No. 16 at RLL, were not.

“Looking to 2017 the hope is that INDYCAR locks in 22 cars for the Leaders Circle,” Carpenter said. “Plus, we’d always wanted to return to two cars for a full season. It just didn’t work out for this year at the start of the year.”

Pigot has undergone some simulator work in advance of his debut with the team, but will make his team debut this weekend.

“It’s great to come to a race weekend and know its not coming to an end quickly,” Pigot told NBC Sports. “There’s still so much to learn and accomplish this season. So to have these more chances with this team is fantastic.

“It all came together pretty quick, recently. Everyone was busy and preoccupied with May, but then it had to come together quickly as it did. I can’t thank this team and Fuzzy’s enough.”

Pigot, who was quick to thank RLL on social media (and the team did likewise) for his opening three races, will also be greater prepared.

“I think it’s just preparation on my side of what I want and like in the car,” he said. “It’s going to be a little different now in a Chevy. But there’s a basic feeling I can still aim for. I know how the races feel, how they go on and what the pit stops are liked. Something I can get used to. It will teach me a lot.”

Plus there’s the natural relationship with Newgarden, who like Pigot is a fellow Indy Lights champion and someone he’s known for years. Now, they’re officially teammates in IndyCar.

“I’ve known Josef for a long time since racing go-karts,” Pigot said. “I’ll ask lots of questions. Always try to get a few tips out of him. It’ll be elevated to another level. Figure out how to go better, quicker.”

For Pigot, 22, the opportunity to make his Indianapolis 500 debut last week was a surreal experience.

“It was really exciting to be a part of it. It’s a highlight of my whole career,” he said.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”