IndyCar 2018 by Spencer Pigot, Pro Mazda champion

IndyCar 2018 by Spencer Pigot, Pro Mazda champion

IndyCar

IndyCar 2018 by Spencer Pigot, Pro Mazda champion

Twice a championship runner-up in USF2000, Spencer Pigot has carried on up the Mazda Road To Indy, and won the Pro Mazda title last season. That earned him a scholarship for the 2015 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series, and so he heads into the 2015 season with widely respected junior formula team, Juncos Racing, and armed with the sexy new Dallara IL15 and its 500hp Mazda AER engine.

So who knows? Spencer may be in the Verizon IndyCar Series as soon as 2016, but he already has clear ideas of how he wants the series to be in 2018.

 

Does the 2018 IndyCar need more power?

Obviously I’m speaking without experience of the current car, but yeah, I’d say so. Ten or 15 years ago, the cars had a ton of horsepower and not a lot of downforce compared with, say, a Formula 1 car and they were spectacular to watch. More horsepower and less downforce helps the really talented drivers to stand out, not just because of car control but also they have to work hard to preserve tires over a whole stint and also avoid mistakes.

One of the things I really like about American tracks is that you do get punished for your mistakes. On street tracks and ovals, it’s pretty obvious you’re going to hit a wall or a tire wall if you get a corner wrong, but also the road courses like Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Road America… they don’t let you get away with anything: you’re going to end up on grass or dirt or a sandtrap, and I think that’s the way it should be. So many of these new tracks being built all over the world have asphalt run-offs so it doesn’t hurt you to make a mistake – it may even help you because it opens up the corner! – and that’s not right.

Is it important to listen to potential new manufacturers about what types of engine to run, and therefore should IndyCar be thinking in terms of hybrid engines for 2018?

I think making the engines relevant to street cars is a good way forward. A lot of manufacturers are making small turbocharged 4-cylinders to replace their old V6s, and turbocharged V6s to replace their V8s. I think IndyCar needs a third manufacturer so giving the chance for a company to prove their technology on track, and take stuff from their track engine and apply it to their street car engines has got to be a good way to go. America is a massive market for just about every manufacturer, which is why you see a lot of factory teams in the TUDOR Championship. But you don’t see hybrid engines… I don’t know if it’s possible yet to build hybrids to race standard for a reasonable price; those F1 engines and WEC engines would be too expensive for most teams in IndyCar. As long as the engines are powerful and the cars are fast, I don’t think it’s a big issue what type of engine it is, so I think letting manufacturers themselves be your guide is a good plan.

Which brings us neatly onto another hot topic – spec cars or not?

I like spec cars because it’s then down to the driver and the engineer: it’s not necessarily down to who has the biggest development budget. You look at Formula 1 and a lot of the time you see teammates side by side on every row because there are big gaps between teams. You don’t know if the guy who’s qualified 16th is maybe more talented than the guy who’s sixth. The great thing about IndyCar is that you have smaller teams challenging Penske and Ganassi every week – maybe not the same smaller team each time but there’s always someone with a smaller budget mixing it with the big teams at every race. Everyone has a chance, and it’s better racing. [RIGHT: Dale Coyne Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing mixing it with Team Penske and Andretti Autosport at Long Beach, 2014.]

And how about team development? Should teams be allowed to do more to the cars? How spec is “spec” in your view?

I think IndyCar is probably a bit too strict at the moment: there are too many areas where the teams can’t do anything to adjust. I think the series should be opening the boxes a little to allow more development, because being able to lead a team in a particular technical direction with what’s basically a spec chassis used to be one of the skills of the best IndyCar drivers. And engineers, actually.

Should the Indy 500 be a more open-rules race in order to attract other teams?

Hmmm… I kind of think the opposite; that if the Indy rules were opened up, everyone would know the big teams were going to do whatever it took, and so that would be the one race where a small team or a team doing a one-off couldn’t win. So I doubt if it would attract extra teams. I like the Indy 500 as a championship race, the biggest in the series – the world, actually – and everyone runs the same stuff, except for the engine and aero kits. Everyone’s basic potential is the same, so anyone can win, in theory.


 

Interesting take… and you’re the first person to point out that opening the rules for that race might put off as many people as it attracted. Regarding ovals in general, the junior formulas on the Mazda Road To Indy don’t get to run on all the ovals because of their lower speed. As a rising star trying to reach IndyCar, how important do you feel it is to keep a bunch of ovals on the schedule?

I’ve got to say, I think it’s essential to keep ovals because the track variety makes IndyCar unique. Oval racing is such a different challenge. When I started racing, I thought it wouldn’t be that difficult, and now I’ve done them in USF2000 and Pro Mazda, I realize it’s incredibly hard to get the car setup and driving style just right. Thankfully, I’ve never raced an oval where you’re just flat-out all the way around; you have to really drive the car, and it’s a challenge.

And I think the races are really exciting to watch, really good for the fans: some of IndyCar’s races at Texas Motor Speedway [ABOVE] and Iowa have been awesome, and it amazes me more people don’t go to watch it. I hope the ovals never go away, and I do believe it’s really important for us to grow up racing on them because they are so challenging and different. Thankfully this new Indy Lights car is going to give us a lot of good preparation, because without that experience in your background, I imagine a full IndyCar around some of these ovals would feel pretty sketchy!

IndyCar 2018 – Closed cockpit or open cockpit?

It’s a weird subject because you never want to see someone get hurt but for me, open-wheel racing means also open cockpit. I’m sure IndyCar will keep on pursuing safety in terms of the cockpit, and the cockpit surround, but I hope we don’t go to a fully-closed cockpit. I liked Will Power’s idea – some overhead protection but not fully enclosed. Plus, I think it’s sad for the fans that they can’t see anything of the driver except the helmet, so I think it’s important to at least keep that view and more easily identify the driver.

Do you think there should be any alteration to the format of the races – More double-headers? Split Pocono into two 150-mile events? that kind of thing – just to mix it up?

I’m not sure the double-headers – one on a Saturday, one on a Sunday – really works. Detroit on Saturday last year looked kind of dead. Sunday will always be bigger. I know it wasn’t deliberate, but having two slightly shorter IndyCar races on the Sunday at Toronto, I thought, worked really well. I think if you have a really good support-race package to go with IndyCar practice and qualifying on the Saturday, having two IndyCar races on the Sunday might be a better format. I mean, it’s not like the crowd are there on Sunday to see the USF2000s, are they? Doing a double-header of shorter races at Pocono or Fontana might also work, but if someone crashes in the first race, they may not make the second race because oval crashes are higher speed so there’s more damage done.

You’re half my age and about one-third of the age of the decision makers in IndyCar, so you remember being 10 years old a lot better than many of us. What first attracted you to the sport and how can we make 10-year-olds into longterm fans?

Well I was at race tracks a lot because my dad used to work on Autocourse’s CART Indy car yearbooks, so I was always around it. And to be honest, I think that’s the trick: getting people to experience it in person. Every kid I talk to at the track loves it, and that means the races they can’t go to, they’ll watch on TV. But there has to first be that experience of it for real in order to appreciate the speed and the sound; standing there at Long Beach or St. Pete as they go by at 180mph, it’s a real sensation blast, real energy. That’s the only way to get someone hooked for life.

I think a lot of the city street races and also Milwaukee are very good at having facilities for the whole family, so that gets people through the gates, and it offers people more for their money. But if you want to make a connection that lasts forever, you’ve got to get the people to love the main event, too. That’s why Barber and Mid-Ohio have decent crowds. This country’s classic tracks like Road America [BELOW] would also get a good crowd, I believe. IndyCar can’t just look after the spectators who’ve come to enjoy a fairground ride or whatever. You’ve got to make it appeal to the fans who’ve come purely for the love of racing. And I think having massive power to make the cars spectacular and difficult would be a big part of that.

Remember to keep sending your thoughts and ideas to IndyCar2018@Racer.com

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