Spencer Pigot was poised to repeat history in the NTT IndyCar Series’ version of a midnight delight — Saturday’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway.
Severe weather pushed back the start time to 11:50 p.m. ET, with the race finally ending somewhere near 2:15 a.m. Sunday morning.
A year ago, Pigot, driver of the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, charged from 18th on the grid to a career-best runner-up finish. This time around, he qualified 19th and put in what looked to be another podium-climbing drive, running as high as third before fate dropped him back to fifth at the checkered flag.
Historically, ECR has been strong at the 0.894-mile Iowa oval. However, the driver still needs to execute, which Pigot did, delivering the team’s seventh consecutive top-five finish at the track.
Fifth also matched his best finish of the year, which came on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
“It’s definitely nice to have a race that went smoothly and where we were able to kind of maximize our potential,” said Pigot, the 2015 Indy Lights champion.
“Obviously, we didn’t make it easy on ourselves starting where we did, but the car was really good on long runs. We were able to make a lot of moves and made some really good calls on pit lane, getting off sequence a little bit early on and getting a lot of track position and then passing cars.
“Overall, it’s a good result. Would have liked to end up on the podium, but coming from 19th, it was never going to be easy.”
Pigot now sits 13th in the overall championship standings, 16 points behind 10th-place Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan’s Sebastien Bourdais.
Even with the cooler temperatures that night racing brought, tire degradation at a high rate was still an issue. The result was as wild a race as we have seen this year, two hours of close calls and nerve-wracking restarts where the field went four-wide into Turn 1 at times.
Pigot was solidly in the mix. For much of the night, he found himself in some intensely aggressive wheel-to-wheel battles, notably with James Hinchcliffe’s Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
“I think as the race went on it, everyone kind of started running low — everyone was trying to race to the bottom of the track,” said Pigot.
“It’s where I thought the best grip was; other people did as well. A few times trying to pass Hinch … well, he’s not going to make it easy on me, obviously. I kind of did the same when he was behind me.
“It’s a part of short-track racing, and when it does become — I don’t want to say ‘one line’, but kind of a ‘preferred line’ — everyone wants it. We were all trying to get to the bottom of the track.”
Although many enjoyed racing at night with the cooler temperatures aiding those with ill-handling cars, Pigot wasn’t so sure it worked in his favor.
“It changed it a lot,” he said. “I don’t if it made it more exciting or not. There was more grip. With the cooler conditions and track temp, the cars create more downforce, the tires live a little bit longer. So maybe it was a little nicer to drive because the tire deg wasn’t maybe as severe as it could have been when it was hotter. But who knows — maybe it would have been better for us to have a hot, more difficult, race.”