2016 IndyCar rookie Spencer Pigot says his only target right now is retaining his seat as Ed Carpenter Racing’s road/street course driver in the #20 car, to partner Josef Newgarden’s replacement J.R. Hildebrand.
The California-born 23-year-old earned three drives with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as part of his prize from Mazda for winning the 2015 Indy Lights championship, but spent the bulk of the season (post-Indy 500) sharing ECR’s #20 entry with team owner Ed Carpenter.
Despite it being a part-time ride, as Carpenter competes on all the oval courses, Pigot told Motorsport.com that he’s prioritized this opportunity at the expense of all else.
“I think I have options outside of IndyCar,” he said, “and I’d say it’s a pretty good possibility I’ll be doing the long-distance IMSA races for Mazda again – although I have nothing confirmed yet. But I’m totally focused right now on getting the ride with Ed’s team.
“We have some good meetings lined up with potential sponsors, and I’m fairly confident we can get it done.”
Asked if he preferred the prospect of an ECR part-time ride to a full-time seat with another team – such as with the tentative KV/Carlin collaboration – Pigot said: “If a Carlin IndyCar team does happen, I’m sure it will be a very good program and yeah, it would be for the whole year. But I think that the amount of funding they’d need is far beyond anything we could realistically gather.
“I think even being part-time for Ed again would be fantastic. Sure, in a perfect world I’d have liked to do a complete rookie season and be looking ahead to a full second season, too. But those opportunities are very hard to come by.
“So I like the idea of continuity and returning to a strong team I have some experience with. Last season was a strange one for a rookie, to not do all the races and to switch between teams, so having consistency would be nice. That’s my target. IndyCar is the goal I’ve worked my whole career for.”
Pigot admitted he had no idea how close he is to retaining the seat in which he finished ninth at Road America and seventh at Mid-Ohio.
“I honestly don’t know if it will happen or what my chances are,” he said. “It all depends on getting the funding we need. And it’s not a huge sum, by the way. But I know that I’m not looking at anything else until this situation is sorted.
“If the meetings go well over the next few weeks, I think things should then happen fairly quickly. Definitely by Christmas we should know what’s happening, for better or worse.”
A typical rookie season
Reflecting on his 10-race 2016 IndyCar season, Pigot admitted that his form was patchy at first, but got better with each race.
“I definitely got better as the season wore on,” he said, “which is what you’d expect from a rookie. I got more comfortable so I was able to get more out of the car.
“So it was a typical rookie year in the sense that I had some good races, some not-so-good races, and struggled a few places. But I think I showed I had pace in practice sessions and I think I raced well for the most part.”
Pigot admitted that exploiting all the grip available from the red-walled (soft compound) tires during qualifying had proven his biggest hurdle.
“Yeah, qualifying was a struggle, I can’t hide that,” he said. “Trying to get the most from the reds was a bit more difficult than I assumed it would be beforehand, so I’ve definitely thought about that a lot and studied different things over the off-season. I hope I get a shot to build on what I’ve learned and improve on it for next year.
“If you look at the races, there were times when even the top guys struggled to define the limit of grip and made a mistake that meant they didn’t go through to the second round of qualifying. You have to get everything right and if you make one little error, that’s all it takes to not advance to the next round.
“In the final practice session you always run a set or two of sticker [new] black tires to get used to having more grip – but then you go and put the reds on for the first time in qualifying and it still feels like you’ve got double that grip! Reds can also change the balance of the car, so you have to try and adapt to that… and you only have one lap, maybe two, to lay down your fast time.
“So I think getting better at that is something that comes with experience and with a better understanding of the tire.”
Pigot dismissed speculation that he had been overly cautious in qualifying sessions, perhaps as a result of his shunt in practice for the Indy 500, his final event with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
“No, not at all,” he stated. “I’ve never been afraid of crashing or not driven as hard as I could because I was thinking just about staying on the track. I mean, throughout my career, I’ve never really crashed much – or not by myself, anyway. My accidents have usually been because of an incident with another car.
“So I’m not someone who tears up the car a lot, but that’s not because I’m not pushing hard. It’s not like I’m carrying less speed into corners because I’m worried about crashing.”
Honda vs Chevrolet comparison
By switching from RLLR-Honda to ECR-Chevrolet, Pigot was the only IndyCar driver in the 2016 season who was able to directly compare the manufacturers, and in particular, the handling differences between their aerokits. However, he said those disparities were less significant than that between car setup philosophies at the respective teams.
“There were definitely things I learned at Bobby’s team that I could take over to Ed’s,” he said, “but it was mainly from learning how IndyCars like to be driven. In terms of feel, I think both teams have a very different view of what the cars need, and I’m sure that stems from Josef [Newgarden] and Graham [Rahal] being at those teams for several years.
“The general car setup for road and street courses from each team has been focused and led by one driver, and those two are quite far apart in terms of how they want their car to behave. So the cars handled differently but I think a lot of that was the general package of the car, rather than the aerokit.”
Pigot said he also improved his driving craft by studying how his teammates drove the current breed of IndyCar.
“I learned a lot from Josef,” he said, “and he’s one of the best out there right now, so it was great to be teammates with him. I learned a lot from Graham too, but obviously spent more time with Josef.
“Being able to study the traces and the videos of his braking techniques and the way he gets back on the power, the way he tackles fast and slow corners – it was all very interesting, and definitely different from the Indy Lights cars.”