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Pigot: ‘The important thing is people see the potential’

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Like many drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Spencer Pigot doesn’t have his 2018 plans sorted, and probably won’t for at least several more weeks.

Pigot matched his car number, 20, in terms of career starts his most recent outing in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course slightly more than a month ago.

Heading into this Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the two-time Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires champion has a point to prove results-wise as he looks to solidify his status in the series beyond being a perennial part-timer, sharing the car with his team boss.

“It’s not been the ideal situation, but the series schedule is somewhat compact that I’m racing fairly often,” Pigot told NBC Sports. “This has been biggest downtime, between Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen. Doing the long distance races with Mazda has kept me fresh as well. You just try to take advantage of all the sessions to get back into the swing of things.”

The Rising Star Racing-supported driver would like to continue with Ed Carpenter Racing and is working towards that retention. Carpenter’s team had a significant change this year with both Josef Newgarden and engineer Jeremy Milless moving on; JR Hildebrand and Justin Taylor came in on the No. 21 side, respectively. Pigot was retained for 2017.

“The next year is always in back of my mind, to try to continue in IndyCar. Finding a full-time ride and being there every weekend is the goal,” he said.

“I’m very happy with where I am. I want to stay with Ed Carpenter Racing. After Sonoma will be the time for talks.”

Pigot’s second season has been more cohesive than his first (all with Carpenter with the exception of the Indianapolis 500 for Juncos Racing), and he’s one of a handful of drivers on the grid where results have not showcased his performance in race weekends.

Just this year alone, Pigot has executed more than 50 on-track passes for position, but has been caught out by a myriad of unfortunate circumstances throughout the year. While running fifth in St. Petersburg, a brake rotor ignited; a misfire of the engine following a pit stop in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dropped him from sixth; and he had worked his way up to eighth at Road America when he had to make two lengthy pit stops for repairs to the front suspension. In Toronto, Pigot gained seven positions in the first 15 green flag laps but was relegated to the rear of the field following unscheduled pit stop after another competitor cut one of his tires.

“I think it’s a tough situation to be in. Our top-10s could have been top-fives. Or 11th or 12th places could have been top-10s,” said Pigot, who’s banked three top-10s this year but in those races at St. Pete, Indy, Road America and Toronto, he finished 20th, ninth, 12th and 18th.

“The important thing is people see the potential and some of the races that we’ve had have been pretty impressive. The amount of cars we passed or pace we ran was good. Even if the end result hasn’t shown it, we’ve shown we can be competitive. We’ve shown if we’re behind a car, we can get by.”

The Floridan is a bit perplexing in these two points: he’s shown that aforementioned excellent race craft and bravery on the PFC brakes, as witnessed by his overtaking numbers. But the fact he’s needed to do so has come from poor qualifying positions, still yet to make his first appearance out of Q1 in a road or street course qualifying session.

Pigot worked to explain this dichotomy when talking about his comfort level on the brakes, and how he feels he has improved in qualifying anyway (and the stats back that up – he has improved his qualifying position in all but one of his starts this year at tracks he raced at last year, although his best start is 13th) having had an extra session on Friday to run on Firestone’s red alternate tires, which was a new introduction this year.

“I would say they’re not quite as grabby, initially, as you don’t feel the braking power quite to the same extent as last year, but the consistency is there,” Pigot explained. “With the PFCs, through the second half of the braking zone, you can go in and trust the downforce. And you can go in quicker than you might want to.

“With the Friday red tire run, it’s a help. Qualifying will always be a bit different but now you know what to expect. The reds last year changed the balance of the car once you got to qualifying. With that kind of drastic difference now you can get some feeling with that, and get moving into qualifying.”

Pigot has worked decently well with Hildebrand this year although neither’s really had a genuine standout start-to-finish amazing weekend on a road or street course this year.

Either of the cool young Americans, who are facing uncertain futures in IndyCar, will look to pull a result out over these last two weekends. Pigot probably amplified his cool status when he sent out a tweet asking if he was the only person who hadn’t seen HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and got a widespread response including more than 300 “likes.”

“Probably my most popular tweet ever,” Pigot deadpanned.

But in all seriousness…

“We’ve had a lot of weekends that could have been a lot better. The results don’t show how well we’ve worked together and developed the car,” Pigot said.

“It’s been nice to have the continuity throughout the whole season. Having the same group of guys, seeing how they operate, helps us develop our race car.

“Last year I did a few races with Rahal and a handful with Ed, and the times I was doing those races, Graham (Rahal) and Josef (Newgarden) had largely developed the car for themselves.

“Now it’s a bit different. We’ve had more time to test and zero in on what I like this year. That’s showing in the pace we’ve shown in specific events, and hopefully the results to come.”

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida