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Leclerc clinches GP3 title despite crashing out in Abu Dhabi opener

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Charles Leclerc has won the GP3 Series title with one race to spare despite crashing out of the weekend opener in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Leclerc entered the final round of the year at the Yas Marina Circuit with a 29-point lead over ART Grand Prix teammate Alexander Albon. Albon took pole on Friday to cut Leclerc’s advantage to 25, with the series leader only qualifying fifth.

Albon retained his advantage through the early part of the race, opening up a lead of around four seconds before a safety car period wiped away his advantage.

On the restart, Albon came under pressure from British youngster Jack Aitken, with the two going wheel-to-wheel in a tight battle for the lead.

Albon rode over the curbs trying to fend off Aitken, only to lose control and end up hitting the Arden driver, sending both off the track.

Aitken was able to continue in fifth place, but Albon was forced to retire, ending his title hopes and making Leclerc champion on the spot.

McLaren junior Nyck de Vries took over the lead of the race ahead of Jake Dennis, while American racer Santino Ferrucci found himself coming under pressure from Leclerc for the final podium position.

Knowing that the title was already won, Leclerc decided to try and pass Ferrucci with an opportunistic move, but proceeded to make contact and sustain damage that forced him to retire.

“They told me that I was champion no matter what so I was allowed to take risks to try and finish on the podium,” Leclerc said after the race.

“I would have never taken that risk had Alex still been in the race. But since I knew I was already champion I decided to go for it.”

Ferrucci ultimately lost out in the race for the podium to the recovering Aitken, receiving a 10-second time penalty in the process for forcing the Briton off-track at one point. The Haas development driver was eventually classified ninth.

For Leclerc, the disappointment of failing to finish the race was overshadowed by his title victory, coming at the end of a big year for the Ferrari junior driver that also saw him enjoy his first F1 tests.

“It sounds really nice. It feels so good,” Leclerc said.

“It’s such a relief for me and the team. We’ve worked so hard for this result. They’ve done an amazing job all season to provide me and my teammates with the best car.

“It has been a great year. They made me grow a lot as a driver as well. That helped me to win the Series. It feels so good!”

Report: Spencer Pigot out at Ed Carpenter Racing

Joe Skibinski / IndyCar
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Spencer Pigot will not return to Ed Carpenter Racing in 2020, according to a story Thursday by RACER.com.

The 26-year-old Floridian, who won the 2015 Indy Lights championship, is expected to be replaced in the No. 21 Chevrolet by 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay.

“I’m appreciative of the opportunity ECR gave me,” Pigot told RACER.com. “I understand the reasons they had to go in a different direction, and wish them all the best.”

In 56 NTT IndyCar Series starts, Pigot has 15 top 10 finishes, with a best finish of second at Iowa in 2018. He finished 14th in the 2019 point standings.

VeeKay, who tested in an Indy car twice for ECR in 2019, has six wins in 18 Indy Lights starts, including a weekend sweep of the final two rounds of the season at Laguna Seca in September.

A representative from ECR told NBC Sports Thursday that the team currently could not comment on any driver rumors as the team currently does not have any drivers under contract for the 2020 season, although it is presumed that owner/driver Carpenter will return to the No. 20 entry for the oval rounds.

NBC Sports will provide updates on the story once more information becomes available.