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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Spencer Pigot

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. Spencer Pigot enjoyed a solid sophomore season, running in all road and street course races for Ed Carpenter Racing from the start of the year and helped longtime friend and team owner Ricardo Juncos fulfill his dream of making his first Indianapolis 500 start.

Spencer Pigot, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 21st place (10 starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 17th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 20.6 Avg. Start, 15.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 8th, Best Start 13th, 0 Top-5, 3 Top-10, 8 Laps Led, 17.1 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish

Stats won’t tell the story of Spencer Pigot’s year-to-year improvement and growth in confidence, which was enough to move the Rising Star Racing-supported driver into a full-time seat with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018. The bottom line was many of his results could have been better save for some lucky breaks.

Between a brake rotor igniting (St. Petersburg), his engine misfiring (Indianapolis road course), suspension repairs (Road America), and a cut tire (Toronto), four potential fifth to eighth place results went begging. It was unfortunate his best result of the year was eighth when he ran regularly in the top five or six before the issues struck in whatever roundabout way they could. His passing ability and deft touch on the brakes was easy to take note of.

His one tough weekend this year came after Pigot made a one-race detour to his Mazda Road to Indy team, Juncos Racing, for its Indianapolis 500 debut. He had a heavy impact exiting Turn 2 in practice, but rebounded by qualifying in a repaired car without any further practice, then held on to the otherwise woefully ill-handling car in the race.

The only real critique you could say of him is that his qualifying needs to be better, which is something Pigot freely admits. He still is yet to break out of Q1 in 20 road or street course race attempts, but he did improve his usual qualifying position this season. Crucially, he out-qualified JR Hildebrand in seven of the 10 races they were teammates this season, as Hildebrand’s offbeat setup choices rarely paid dividends. His higher upside was evident throughout the year, and he should only be better in 2018 following an offseason of testing.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.