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Pigot delivers fiery start, but suffers fiery end, in St. Petersburg

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The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a case of “what might have been” for Verizon IndyCar Series sophomore Spencer Pigot.

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver started 13th, avoided the spinning car of Graham Rahal and the wounded cars of Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz, and then made a series of great passes to run fifth during the opening stint.

However, it all came undone under the second caution period. The caution itself was going to hurt the team’s strategy, but a much bigger problem emerged when smoke began billowing from the left-rear corner of his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

The left-rear brake rotor had begun to malfunction and eventually exploded as he entered his pit stall. He rejoined the race after losing several laps while undergoing repairs, but the team eventually retired the car when it became apparent they wouldn’t gain more positions by continuing.

Still, despite the disappointing result, Pigot was upbeat about the overall performance.

“It was fun!” he told NBC Sports afterward. “The pace was there, we definitely made improvements Saturday night into Sunday. All the hard work we did in the off-season is starting to pay off and we’re fighting a lot higher up the grid, which is what the goal was in the first place.”

Pigot is also boosted by the continuity with Ed Carpenter Racing. Last year, he made his debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but was only on a three-race deal and had nothing confirmed beyond the Indianapolis 500.

He joined the Ed Carpenter-led team at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, but switching teams mid-season is hardly ideal. The switch was made all the more difficult by a change in manufacturers. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing runs Hondas, while Ed Carpenter Racing runs Chevrolets. The manufacturer shift meant his learning curve was compounded even further and he struggled to find pace all year.

Returning to Ed Carpenter Racing allows the 23-year-old to build on relationships he built with the team. And while he is not yet a full-time driver (Pigot is running the road/street races for the No. 20 effort, with Ed Carpenter again assuming driving duties at the oval races), competing with the same team and knowing he’ll run most of the races make him much more comfortable.

“It’s nice to know I’m pretty much going to be in every race this year. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. The goal is to obviously be here full-time and this is the first step. I’m very happy to be back with the team and they did a great job this weekend.”

While the Verizon IndyCar Series is off until the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 7-9), Pigot will not sit idle. He will rejoin Mazda Racing’s program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at at next week’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. He will again be a co-driver on the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P entry, partnering Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).