Spencer Pigot says that stepping across to the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet to campaign the full IndyCar season is what he’s been working towards his whole career.
The 2015 Indy Lights champion earned the prize of three IndyCar races including the Indy 500 in 2016 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, before being hired by ECR team owner Ed Carpenter to share his #20 car and compete on the road/street courses for the remainder of the year and throughout 2017.
As a free agent at the Indy 500 last year, Pigot thus made his second Indy 500 start with series debutant team Juncos Racing.
For 2018, he’s replaced JR Hildebrand as the fulltimer in ECR’s #21 car, but says he doesn't feel any extra pressure at becoming the team’s only championship focus, while Carpenter shares his car with rookie and former Formula 2 race winner Jordan King.
“Nah, I don’t think I feel more pressure than I did,” Pigot told Motorsport.com. “Nothing’s ever guaranteed so you always have to be putting in your best performances to try and keep your place in the sport. However many races you’re doing, that’s just how it is.
“It’s unusual that I have two teammates but I’m the only one doing all the race. I've just come from the other side of that deal, and this is just a different and even more exciting role. But that’s great: it’s the opportunity I’ve been working toward for a long time.”
After posting ninth fastest time in the final session at in the Phoenix open test at ISM Raceway, Pigot said that helped reassure him he was ready for the full-time position at ECR, despite it being two-and-a-half years since his last short-oval experience. He said the on-track action around the 1.022-mile oval had been eye-opening, though.
“I haven’t raced at Phoenix before and hadn’t run on a short oval since I was in Indy Lights,” he said, “so it felt like I was learning everything all over again.
“But I think we had a pretty good test. We struggled on the first day but made some good improvements, especially in the night session on the final day.
“It was crazy out there though! People were doing all sorts of stuff and when you want to do a run in traffic, it’s hard to jump in the line. It’s not like Indy where you have long straightaways to sort yourselves out. At Phoenix, the corners come up quick, and it becomes a real mess. I don’t think the race will be quite like that.
“But yeah, I feel absolutely ready for road and street courses, obviously, and the more time I spend on the ovals, the better. And at the end of the test, yeah, I definitely felt good. The single-lap pace was decent, and I thought we were pretty good running in the pack. It gave a good idea of what the ovals consist of.”
Easing Pigot’s transition to a fulltime role is the continuity he feels with race engineer Matt Barnes, who after six years working on the #20 car has transferred to the #21. That means the previous season-and-a-half working with Pigot on road and street courses should now blossom further.
Barnes told Motorsport.com: “It’s been good. I’ve been with the team so long and worked with Ed so long that I an still keep an eye on everything. It hasn’t been too big a change.
“But yeah, I worked with Spencer when he was in the #20, so this move made sense. I just need to get him up to speed on ovals and continue to build our relationship.
“And it’s great to have Allen McDonald [ex-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports] join us on the #20 car. He’s a good guy, and a strong race engineer.”
Regarding Pigot’s progress through the Phoenix test, Barnes commented: “We were far off with our setup when we started the test, but Spencer stayed diligent, kept his head in the game as we did a bunch of changes, and then we finally got it right.
“He finally got the car in a place he was comfortable with it. He was patient enough to get his new-tire run at the right time, and I think he did a really good job, especially when you look at how little oval running he's done the past few years."