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Spencer Pigot’s rise

October 21, 2015

The first time I met Spencer Pigot was in January or February many years ago, when INDYCAR held an open test at Homestead-Miami Speedway around the time of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It’s a long drive from Daytona to past Miami. But worth it, especially in this case.

After watching the Indy cars, I wandered across the street where some karting contests were taking place. I’d known Spencer’s father, Barry through my editorial work and he was there supporting his son. I was immediately impressed by Spencer’s ability behind the wheel and by how he got with the job and let nothing interfere with his work. Even then, even shorter than I (which is saying something) he looked totally at home in a racecar. And understood PR. One of the perquisites of being born into the business, I guess?

So I followed the kid’s progress through karts, into each step of Mazda’s Road to Indy and, finally, taking his second consecutive title and marching into the Verizon IndyCar Series, as announced Tuesday by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR). Spencer Pigot, the newly crowned Indy Lights champion will take his expertise to at least three races next year: the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. There could be more races if sponsorship and/or grand results find their way to his side of the RLLR team.

Two years ago Spencer and I were talking about Indianapolis and the 500. I point-blank asked him, “When do you think you’ll be in the 500? Maybe for the 100th?” He turned pale, looked at me with an incredulous nature and blurted out, “I’m only in Pro Mazda!” That may have been so but, even in May of 2013 Pigot’s maturity was showing through; he didn’t think he was ready and likely right about that.

At the ripe age of 22, Spencer Pigot has progressed through all four stages in the Mazda Road to Indy and becomes the fifth consecutive Indy Lights champion to earn the opportunity to race in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing a year after earning the Lights title. That he gets that opportunity to play on racing’s largest stage – and on its largest, Centennial day – shouldn’t be lost on anyone. And with this move, Pigot joins another young gun, Graham Rahal, whose maturity rate accelerated almost as much as fiancee Courtney Force’s NHRA Funny Car over the past 12 months.

This could be just the kind of pairing INDYCAR has been looking for: two maturing young American drivers, proficient, accessible and eager to make their marks in top-deck open wheel motorsports. “The [RLLR] team is coming off a great 2015 season,” Pigot said at the announcement, “and hopefully we can build on that success. The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is going to be a very special moment for me and the highlight of my career so far. It’s what I’ve been working towards ever since I started racing (at age 9). It’s the biggest race in the world and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

The alignment with RLLR should be a good one, as team co-owner Bobby Rahal said: “At RLL we have a track record of bringing young drivers into the IndyCar Series like Danica Patrick, and giving experienced drivers new opportunities to recapture their past success like Ryan Hunter-Reay and Buddy Rice did with the team (as has Oriol Servia). We’re looking forward to having Spencer, another young American driver in the series, alongside Graham and are excited about what the future holds.”

Once Pigot had the Indy Lights title in hand – in that series’ 30th year – Andersen Promotions sent out requests for proposal to the IndyCar Series teams. The Lights titleholder earns a $1 million scholarship that’s intended to place the driver in at least three races the following year. “We talked to Dan (Andersen) when he sent out the RFP and here we are. We hope this isn’t limited to just three races; obviously funding plays a role for anybody, for any team, but we’ve already received some interest. So the goal here,” Bobby Rahal stressed, “is to run Spencer as much as we can in 2016.”

RLL Racing has consistently raced a second car at Indianapolis in the past and Pigot’s plans neatly dovetail into that program. While not focused on a full-year program with the young Floridian, RLL is ready for the growth that’s necessary to run a second car. “I think the team is in real good shape after last year,” Rahal said. “These three events were easy for us to do with personnel, the fact that two of them are in Indianapolis – and it seemed like a good starting spot for me. I’m just pleased we’re going to have more than one race with Spencer; we’ll have some time to get to know him, do some testing.”

They’ll have Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) availability for their newest driver, as well when he arrives in Indianapolis for the biggest 500 since the first, in 1911. “We had good cars on the racetrack last year. I think that will certainly be an advantage for Spencer coming into the ‘500’ in particular. You’ve got a good teammate. I think technically the team seems to be in a good spot. These are races we thought he could do and do well,” thanks to the team’s secondary base in nearby Brownsburg; its home is near Columbus, Ohio.

The team is not likely to place Pigot in a car until parameters have been set for the 2016 season as he’ll learn nothing if it’s not the same spec. Andersen took that, and the culture of RLL Racing in hand before placing the scholarship with that team. “Bobby and I had an affiliation” when Andersen was getting his start in the Indy car community. “We wanted the right thing for Spencer – and there are a lot of options out there – but this is a package that we think Spencer can really shine in his debut performances. It was very important to us not to simply put him in a car, but to put him in the right car.”

No partnership announcements were made about the Honda racecar set for Pigot’s Indy car debut. Both the car number and any additions to his Mazda- and Andersen Promotions-promoted $1 million scholarship for winning the Indy Lights title will be announced at a later date, the team said.

Pigot is the most successful driver since the formation of the Mazda Road to Indy in 2010. He has 24 total race wins in USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights, becoming the 15th driver since 2010 to graduate from this ladder grouping of series to INDYCAR competition.

By Anne Proffit

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