Pagenaud, Pigot star among IndyCar drivers at Petit Le Mans

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The five-pack of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers competing at this year’s Petit Le Mans – newly crowned series champion Simon Pagenaud along with Spencer Pigot, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay – had interesting days at the office on Saturday.

The battle between Pagenaud and Pigot in the second half of the race over podium positions proved one of the highlights of the race.

Pagenaud didn’t even get into the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP until more than six hours of the 10-hour IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race were complete. When he did, he found himself racing Pigot, who was in his second Mazda Prototype of the day, this time the No. 70 car after the No. 55 had electrical issues and retired in the third hour.

Pigot, who has taken to the prototypes like a duck to water this year, passed Pagenaud not once but twice during the race. And he’d also battled intently with Ricky Taylor, his longtime friend in Orlando and occasional “karting driveway” rival.

The No. 70 car was poised for an overdue first podium finish of the year before heartbreak struck in the final 15 minutes of the race; a broken fuel injector contributed to a fire and a retirement for the car Pigot shared with full-season drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller.

It was a tough end for the last race of the current generation Mazda Prototype – which was homologated as a Lola B12/80 chassis and marked the last ever professional start for the venerable British constructor Lola Cars, which began in the 1950s before ending as a company in 2012.

“It was a joy to drive the car. Everything was working great. The engineers did an awesome job with the handling, and the Mazda engine was working fantastic for me,” Pigot said afterwards.

“I just had a lot of fun out there. I was able to battle with a lot of good guys – Simon [Pagenaud] and Ricky [Taylor]- back and forth a lot. It was clean, good hard racing. The team definitely deserved to be on the podium. They worked incredibly hard. It’s a shame what happened to the 55 car early in the race but everyone was out supporting the 70 – and that’s what Mazda’s all about. It’s a big family and I wish it had ended a little bit different.”

Pagenaud, meanwhile, had to account for the long wait time before his opening stint. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox entry finished fourth on the day, but one spot ahead of the sister Action Express car to secure Dane Cameron and Eric Curran the full-season championship.

“It was long. I hate waiting! But that’s part of the job what you do as the third driver,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports post-race. “It wasn’t easy because I had the sun coming down going into the night. Not an easy stint. Simon the engineer put me in a good situation. It paid off.”

The other three IndyCar drivers didn’t get their usual chance to start as much.

Sebastien Bourdais was part of the sister No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT that finished second in GT Le Mans in the car he shared with Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand.

A broken waste gate pipe slowed the progress of the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT shared by Scott Dixon with full-season co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, who were going for the championship. That car finished seventh.

A forgettable season for Visit Florida Racing was hamstrung by engine issues, and left Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 90 Corvette DP car he shared with Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens seventh in class.