As Spencer Pigot finished runner-up in last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300, his Ed Carpenter Racing team enjoyed a hard-earned second podium of 2018.
It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for ECR this season. With Pigot moving to the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet full-time, the team appointed English driver Jordan King to split the No. 20 car with owner Ed Carpenter.
St. Petersburg started with a bang as King reached the Firestone Fast Six in a wet and wild qualifying session that placed him fourth on the grid. Unfortunately, after leading 5 laps King would place 21st while Pigot finished 15th.
While the owner/driver Carpenter was able to pick up a top-10 finish at Phoenix in April, his two young prospects struggled to put together full races while showing flashes of speed. Pigot finished 15th four times in the first five races – often trying to recover from poor grid positions – and King began to realize the talent level in IndyCar by the time he reached the month of May.
It was a strong month at Indianapolis for the Chevrolet team. For the INDYCAR Grand Prix, King qualified 5th while Pigot notched his best starting spot of the season in 9th. Always a bit short on luck this year, King would be wiped out in the second corner of the race after Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud made contact.
While he was able to soldier on, the Brit could only muster a 24th place result, two laps down.
Pigot didn’t fare much better on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Just a couple corners after King was smacked by Pagenaud, Pigot was forced over the curbing for his own wild ride. The spectacular moment that saw all four of his wheels leave the racing surface before abruptly settling back down. He would finish 15th.
For the 102nd Indianapolis 500, the team showed plenty of speed through practice and that resulted in favorable qualifying positions. One-off driver Danica Patrick qualified 7th, Pigot placed 6th, and team boss Carpenter would pick up his third career Indy 500 pole award. ECR was the strongest Chevrolet team in qualifying and their prospects for an Indy victory had never looked better.
At the start of the race, it felt like that just might come true.
Carpenter dominated the early quarter of the proceedings as near-record temperatures made passing a challenge. While Pigot maintained a top-10 position in that time, Patrick would make an early exit from the race as she lost control of her GoDaddy Chevrolet on lap 67.
Unfortunately for ECR that wouldn’t be the only blip of the day as Pigot would pick up a speeding penalty and fall a lap down. Unable to recover from the mistake, the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet would place 20th despite having top-10 speed.
Things certainly weren’t all bad on the afternoon, though. While veterans such as Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais and a host of others would crash on their own, Carpenter navigated through the challenges and finished runner-up to a dominant Will Power. While disappointed, Carpenter understood the importance of this run and how it would help his team’s morale and financial stability.
Following Indianapolis, Pigot would rebound from a tough Indy 500 to pick up his first top-10 of the year in Detroit. The California native would place 11th at Texas before finishing 8th in a challenging Road America round just a few weeks ago.
That same day, King recorded his best finish of the season by picking up a 12th place result in Wisconsin.
That takes us to this past weekend in Iowa where the Carpenter/Pigot duo would once again hit the track. While Carpenter would qualify a respectable 9th, Pigot dug quite a hole for his No. 21 team early on with an 18th-place grid position.
His struggles would end there.
From the drop of the green flag, Pigot began slicing through traffic while building confidence in his machine’s capabilities.
“Right from the get-go, we had a good car based on how we were getting through traffic. As the stint went on I thought we just got stronger and stronger,” said Pigot after picking up an incredible second-place finish.
It was the first podium of Pigot’s career.
“To find our way up near the front there was a little unexpected to start the day, but I’m really proud of everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet – I mean they gave me a great car,” Pigot explained.
“We didn’t have a great day yesterday, but everyone kept their heads down and kept pushing and we’re on the podium. I’m very excited and very proud of everyone here at the team… It feels great. My first podium in INDYCAR, hopefully, the first of many.”
Despite fighting his car for much of the afternoon, Carpenter would grind out a hard-earned 10th place finish. It was ECR’s first dual top-10 effort since Phoenix in 2017 and their 5th such occurrence since moving to two cars in 2016.
While Carpenter lamented his own struggles on the day, he made note of Pigot’s performance and the importance of his run for the entire team.
“I’m really happy for Spencer to get a break-out run and get his first podium in an Indy car,” Carpenter said post-race. “Both cars in the top 10, not what we came here for, but not miserable either. Spencer’s run is good for the whole team. We all work really tight together as a unit.
“It is, however, getting a little annoying that my teammates keep getting the better of me here,” Carpenter conceded, jokingly. “But like I said, good job to them. Both cars in the top 10 is a good thing on a day like today when you see a lot of teams struggling.”
The finish moves Pigot to 14th in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship, matching his high water mark from earlier in the year. In 11 starts the 24-year-old has an average finishing position of 13.5, but over the last three races, Pigot has a fine 7.0 average finish. Ed Carpenter Racing is hoping this is the payoff that follows the inevitable “teething” process for a young IndyCar driver.
The series moves to Toronto this weekend where ECR looks to improve on their recent form above the border. Since Mike Conway took victory in the race back in 2014, the best ECR finish has been a 13th by J.R. Hildebrand last year. In the last two years at Toronto, Pigot has finished 19th and 18th for the Indianapolis-based team and is hopeful for a leap towards the top-10 on Sunday.
The Honda Indy Toronto goes green on Sunday, July 15 at 3:00 PM Eastern time, live on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Images courtesy of Chris Jones/INDYCAR Media.