This Sunday is the culmination of a dream for 22-year-old Spencer Pigot.
The Orlando native really couldn’t have picked a better place to make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut after his incredible five-year run through the Mazda Road to Indy than the streets of St. Petersburg.
When Pigot straps into the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, thanks to the support of Mazda and Dan Andersen among others, he’ll have fulfilled the nearly perfect rise over the last few years having been the first to secure four Mazda scholarships.
Pigot’s record at St. Petersburg is nothing short of incredible. In 10 career starts in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda he has 10 career top-five finishes, including five wins.
In fact, the craziest note among all those past five weekends at St. Petersburg is that he’s finished in the same position in both races of a doubleheader each year but one.
His St. Pete debut, in USF2000 with Andretti Autosport in 2011, saw him finish first and second. A second go-around in USF2000 saw him sweep the races in 2012 for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.
Once in Pro Mazda, Pigot banged out two fourth places (2013 with Team Pelfrey), then two crushing wins (2014 with Juncos Racing), which helped launch his Pro Mazda title run that season.
Last year, the string of success continued – Pigot secured two third places with Juncos in both his and the team’s full-time step up to Indy Lights, in the first weekend of the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda chassis. They were his first two podiums in his eventual run to the Indy Lights championship.
Needless to say, the past success and the home track advantage is something that makes for a dream debut scenario for Pigot.
“St. Pete is gonna be great,” he told NBC Sports during the Phoenix Test in the West. “I have had a lot of success there. There’s always a lot of friends and family that support me.
“There’s not a better place to make my debut in IndyCar than there. I’ve been going to that race much longer than I’ve been competing. Really, I’m just counting down the days.”
Pigot’s humility and calm demeanor is something that stands out. He never gets too high after his success, or too low after any disappointments.
It’s those qualities that have already endeared himself to both team co-owner Bobby Rahal and teammate Graham Rahal, who had the chance to work with Pigot at both Phoenix (when he was on the timing stand) and Sebring (where he tested last week) in the last couple weeks.
“I was really pleased with Spencer’s job. He did a great job for us,” Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “He’s (already) right there. He didn’t put a foot wrong. I think he really gelled with the team, and the team with him. I was really pleased with the job he did.”
Graham Rahal added, “He’s got a great head on his shoulders. Great kid. He’s confident, but what I like most about Spencer is his modesty.
“These young kids come out having been successful in their younger years, and then for example Sage Karam figured this out last year, they find out, (in IndyCar) they’re not chumps.
“I told Spencer, one of the things I like about him a lot, is that’s he’s very humble. Those are the guys I want to spend time helping out.
“For me, he’s gonna be a big part of this program going forward.”
Pigot’s in a scenario where St. Petersburg will very likely be his only race until the month of May, when he’ll also race in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by Penn Grade Motor Oil as part of his three-race Mazda scholarship package.
That presents a situation where Pigot has to balance impressing on debut with cleanliness, wanting to try to stand out but also not taking any undue risk where it can be avoided. He’ll have Neil Fife as his engineer and Rahal on the timing stand as strategist for St. Petersburg.
“It’s kinda tricky,” Pigot explained. “You want to finish well and as high as you can. “The key is to do a good job for the team, buy just trying to focus on doing the best for myself.
“But I’m not gonna be afraid to go and pass if there’s an opportunity, say because I don’t want to take my wing off. I’m still gonna be aggressive where I can, and do the best I can.”
It remains to be seen whether Pigot will race in any further events this year beyond the first three he’s confirmed for. As the Rahals related, it’s not Pigot that’s the hold-up, it’s finding enough quality people to ensure Pigot can deliver when in the seat.
“The thing that makes our team work is the quality of people,” Bobby Rahal said. “At this stage, finding the people we’d need for a full-time basis, we wouldn’t find. So that begs the question, why do it?
“We’re able to do the races we can with Spencer. We can have some of our BMW (Team RLL IMSA program) guys assist, as most have IndyCar experience and originally were. We can stick our toe in here and there. We’d do it with high quality people.
“Spencer or anyone else would be limited this year, but would I like to have a two-car team down the road? Absolutely. But we’d need to make sure the second program contributes to the overall program.”
Pigot’s optimistic about St. Pete and just focused on ensuring he does the best he can with this limited opportunity. Some drivers like Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay, for example, have turned part-time starts into full-time seats in recent years.
“Most likely we won’t do anything else before Indy but post-Indy, there’s a chance of doing some more races,” Pigot said.
“It won’t be a full season this year. But adding onto these three would be great.”