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The Way It Is/ Spencer Pigot's phenomenal rise

by Gordon Kirby
Spencer Pigot's rise through America's open wheel ladder system has been phenomenal. Skip Barber National Series champion in 2010; USF2000 championship runner-up in 2011 and '12; Pro Mazda champion in 2014; and 2015 Indy Lights champion. Pigot took this year's Indy Lights title in style by winning a pair of races at Laguna Seca the weekend before last to beat Jack Harvey and Ed Jones to the championship.

As Spencer's 22nd birthday arrived he was able to reflect that he's established himself as one of America's most promising open wheel talents who's secure in the knowledge that he will race in next year's 100th Indianapolis 500 and at least two more 2016 IndyCar races as part of Mazda's excellent Road to Indy scholarship program.

Spencer started his racing career as a tike on BMX and then moto-cross bikes before moving to karts in 2003 when he was just nine years old. Pigot started racing cars with Skip Barber when he was sixteen and won three races on his way to the 2010 Skip Barber national title, earning a MazdaSpeed scholarship to compete in the 2011 Cooper Tire US F2000 Championship.

© Mazda Road to Indy
Spencer ran the USF2000 series in 2011 with Andretti Autosport and won three races, took four poles and finished second in the championship. Pigot also won a pair of Team USA Scholarships in 2010 and '11 to compete in Formula Ford in the UK.

In 2012, Pigot won the Cooper Tire Winterfest F2000 series title in dominant style, winning five of six races, then dueled fiercely with Australian Matthew Brabham for the Cooper Tire US F2000 championship. Spencer won eight of 14 races, scoring twice as many wins as Brabham, but ultimately finished second in the championship just seven points short of Brabham's tally.

Pigot moved up to the Pro Mazda Championship in 2013 with Team Pelfrey. He won at Mosport and was second in three other races, finishing fourth in the championship.

Last year Spencer moved to Juncos Racing's four car team. He had raced karts successfully with Juncos and Spencer had a great season with the team. He swept the four-race Winterfest series then won the opening four Pro Mazda races before adding two more wins later in the year to beat talented young Canadian Scott Hargrove to the championship.

This year Pigot was equally successful as he moved up to Indy Lights in company with Rudolfo Juncos's team. Spencer won six races, including the last two on successive days at Laguna Seca.

"Coming into it, we were a few points behind and had to make sure we beat Jack (Harvey)," Spencer remarked. "To win both races at Laguna was even better than we imagined. They went really well. As always, the starts were close and really hard fought, but I was able to come out of them clean and keep our wings on the car, which is what I was most worried about. From there, it was just making sure nothing went wrong.

"To win both races at Mazda Raceway for a company that's supported me with scholarships for so long was just a fantastic weekend. It was something I'll never forget. It was very special and couldn't have been a better way to cap off my Mazda Road to Indy career."

Pigot is the poster boy for Mazda's scholarship program and is quick to point out that Mazda has been essential to his burgeoning career.

"The program was designed to move drivers from the bottom to the top of the ladder," Spencer says. "I'm one of the few guys who's been able to do it and show that you can move up year after year if you are able to perform. But I'm sure I'm not going to be the last guy to do it and it will continue for many years to come.

© Mazda Road to Indy
"I wouldn't have been in Indy Lights this year or moving into Indy cars next year without the money and support from Mazda and Cooper Tire. I have some sponsorship outside of them but it's been a big boost for me to win these scholarships which have taken me up the ladder. The only one I didn't win was the US F2000 championship. I came really close but wasn't able to mark that one on my list.

"Still, to win the Barber championship, the Pro Mazda championship and now the Indy Lights championship too, has been great. There's nothing like the Mazda Road to Indy program anywhere else in the world. In Europe if you win an F3 or GP2 championship you still have to go and find millions of dollars to keep moving up. So I'm very thankful and fortunate that I've been able to take advantage of Mazda's Road to Indy program."

As an Indy Lights rookie with an equally inexperienced team Pigot struggled a little last May in his first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"We had a few weekends where we struggled," Spencer admits. "That's to be expected with a new driver and team, but it showed at Indy. We struggled to be competitive there and that was frustrating. I know when they go back there next year the team will want to do well there.

"But that's one thing that's good about Juncos Racing. We always bounced back from a bad weekend. After Indy we went to Toronto and dominated the weekend."

Spencer has great respect for Ricardo Juncos and his team.

"I've known Ricardo and his wife and family for eleven years. I started racing go karts with them when I was nine years old and he taught me so much in karting. So it's been great to be able to come back and move up through Pro Mazda and Indy Lights with his team and see the team evolve as it went up the ladder.

"When I was ready to jump to Pro Mazda they were already there and established, so I really enjoyed driving with them last year and then to win the Indy Lights championship with them has been just fantastic. I've won championships with them in karting, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights which is pretty cool. They've become extremely good friends. They're like family to me and it's great to be able to share the success and grow with them."

Juncos Racing continued to run four Pro Mazda cars this year as well as two Indy Lights cars and the team expects to do so once again next season. Meanwhile Juncos is investing $3 million to build a new shop for his team in Indianapolis aiming to compete in IndyCar in the near future.

"They're an ambitious team and would love to move up soon to Indy cars," Pigot says. "It may take a few years, but I'm sure it will happen at some point in the future."

Spencer is a big fan of this year's new and much improved Dallara Lights car.

© Mazda Road to Indy
"The new car is a huge step forward from the old car in so many different areas," he observes. "They did a great job in putting the package together. In terms of handling and speed, obviously it's pretty clear because we've broken every track record by a bunch. The car's a lot quicker and it handles better. It's very nimble.

"There are also a lot more things you have to do in the cockpit like in an Indy car with the paddle shifting, the push to pass, and knobs on the steering wheel to change maps. I think there's a lot more you have to think about and be on top of in Indy Lights this year compared to the past. It's preparing us in multiple different ways for Indy cars."

Along with half a dozen other young drivers from the Road to Indy ladder system Spencer had the opportunity to test an Indy car for the first time at Sonoma Raceway last month.

"That was great," he grins. "I never thought my first Indy car test would be with Team Penske. To be part of that team for a day was just tremendous. They were very welcoming and open. They answered any questions I had and carefully explained things to me. They took me under their wing and the test went really well.

"The car was a blast to drive. It has so much grip and is such a fast car. The braking is incredible and it's a very impressive car in terms of the performance. Its speed everywhere was much greater than I expected and I can't wait to drive one again. My neck was pretty sore afterwards, but it was well worth it."

In addition to his million dollar scholarship from Mazda and Cooper Tire, Spencer's current sponsors include Doug Mockett & Company, Rising Star Racing, Moby, California Scents, The Stutz, BAD and D/A Lubricants.

"The next step is to start talking to some IndyCar teams and see what kind of a deal we can put together," Spencer says. "The goal is to do a full season, not just the 500. I want to do the full championship and we'll be working hard with all my current sponsors and trying to find new sponsors to try to make that happen.

"It'll be an interesting next few months. Hopefully, there will be some good opportunities in IndyCar and maybe in sports cars as well. We've been focused on trying to win the Indy Lights championship and now we can begin to focus on what opportunities may be out there for next year."

The combination of Dan Anderson, Mazda's John Doonan and the Road to Indy ladder system are key elements in pushing forward the careers of exciting young talents like Spencer Pigot. Without doubt, Anderson, Doonan and Mazda are helping ensure the sport's future by supplying IndyCar with its most vital element.

So we continue to hope that IndyCar can begin to build the right schedule and a better commercial environment so that the likes of Pigot, Sean Rayhall and their contemporaries can properly pursue their careers.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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