The Offseason Drama Continues

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This past Thursday, we learned from a Marshall Pruett article at Racer.com that Spencer Pigot’s employment at Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) has come to an abrupt end. At the season finale in late September, Robin Miller reported that Pigot was likely coming back to the team he has driven for in some capacity since the 2016 season.

If you’ll recall, The 2016 season started off with only Josef Newgarden driving for ECR in the non-ovals. Phoenix and the Indianapolis 500 were the only two races that the No. 20 car made an appearance.

Spencer Pigot was coming off of winning the 2015 Indy Lights championship and had the scholarship money that comes along with it. He took that money to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and ran the season-opener at St. Petersburg along with the IndyCar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. His best finish was in the IndyCar Grand Prix where he finished eleventh. He finished the Indianapolis 500, albeit five laps down because he ran out of fuel during a caution in the middle part of the race.

With his time at Bobby Rahal’s team completed, it was announced just a few days after the “500” that Pigot would be joining ECR to run the No. 20 car in the remaining non-oval races of the season. He returned for that same role in the No. 20 car for the 2017 season.

With Josef Newgarden’s departure from the No. 21 to go to Team Penske, JR Hildebrand went to the fulltime role as the driver of the No. 21, with Ed Carpenter and Pigot splitting duties in the No. 20. It was not a good season for the team as a whole. Pigot’s best finish was an eighth, while Carpenter posted one seventh place finish at Phoenix. Hildebrand had two podiums in the fulltime car, but had an otherwise disastrous season. He finished fifteenth in points and was out of that ride by the end of the season.

For 2018, Spencer Pigot moved over from the part-time ride in the No. 20 car to the fulltime ride in the No. 21. Pigot had one podium (a second-place finish at Iowa) and three more Top-Ten finishes, but the results were about the same as Hildebrand posted the previous season. Pigot finished a forgettable fourteenth.

This past season Pigot had no podiums, two fifth-place finishes (the IndyCar Grand Prix and Iowa) and two other Top-Ten finishes. These mediocre finishes resulted in another fourteenth place finish in points. As non-remarkable as this past season was for Pigot, it was better than Ed Jones posted in the part-time non-oval role. In thirteen races, Jones had only one Top-Ten – a sixth in the IndyCar Grand Prix. Overall his average finish was 15.92; including a twenty-third place finish in the season-finale at Laguna Seca.

Although the Pruett article was about Pigot’s departure, it also said what we’ve all known anyway – that Ed Jones would probably not be returning either. So it looks as if the only ECR driver returning in 2020 will be Ed Carpenter for the ovals.

The article went on to explain that the most likely successor to Pigot’s seat is Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay, who is coming off of a 2018 championship season in Pro Mazda and finishing second to Oliver Askew in Indy lights this past season. His real name is Rinus (pronounced REE-nus) van Kalmthout; but he Americanized and shortened his last name to the phonetic spelling of the initials of his last name. I’m glad, because it’s a lot easier to type “VeeKay” than it is to pound out “van Kalmthout”

Apparently, VeeKay has a lot of Dutch money behind him and he can bring that pile of cash to ECR.

Since this was announced on Thursday, I’ve seen a lot of Pigot supporters decrying how Pigot got shoved aside for the almighty dollar. My question to them is what has Pigot shown to justify keeping him for another season and passing up the funding that VeeKay brings to the table? In fifty-two starts at ECR, Spencer Pigot has five Top-Five finishes, and only one of those was a podium finish. One podium in fifty-two starts is not good enough to earn another season, in my opinion.

Some say it’s not the driver, but the team. That’s fair enough. After Josef Newgarden left following the 2016 season, JR Hildebrand did no better than Pigot. Jordan King didn’t set the world on fire in 2018, while driving the non-ovals; just like Ed Jones in 2019. Try as they might to be otherwise, this is still a team that specializes in ovals. Although they have yet to win the Indianapolis 500, it’s safe to say they have the place figured out. Ed Carpenter had a good season this past year on the ovals, and Pigot has had good runs at Iowa. But their record with both cars on the non-ovals is abysmal for the most part.

Some will point to Mike Conway winning two races for the team on non-ovals in 2014. If you look at the rest of his season, however, those two wins appear to be anomalies. If you take those two wins out of the equation, the remaining ten races that season produced an average finish of 15.3 – right in line with what Pigot, Hildebrand, King and Jones have done.

If it’s the team that’s at fault, they apparently need to make changes. What’s the best way to make changes? Bring in more money. I don’t know if Pigot and/or Jones brought any money to the table. If they did, it certainly wasn’t as much as VeeKay can apparently bring. So, Ed Carpenter had to make a business decision at the expense of Spencer Pigot.

Also in the rumor mill is that Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg is also in play for the non-oval portion at ECR. While some fans were salivating at this possibility, I’m not sure I see this happening. Ed Carpenter has always been partial to hiring American drivers for his team, with Conway, King and Jones being the lone exceptions. Even if he does sign VeeKay and takes his money; I think he would have a hard time bringing in another European driver, which would leave Carpenter as the nly American driver for his team.

My personal thought coincides with what Marshall Pruett wrote when he said that Conor Daly is in the mix for the part-time portion of the 2020 season. Pruett reasoned that the sponsorship from the US Air Force that Daly is presumed to have will mesh nicely with ECR’s mostly American theme. But if you listened to Trackside last Wednesday night, they were speculating that perhaps the Air Force sponsorship may be staying with Andretti, where Daly ran two races for the Air Force this past season. So who really knows?

But I think Daly could have better success in a part-time role with ECR than in a fulltime role at Carlin – another rumored destination for Daly in 2020. Is that ideal? No, but it’s better than he’s had for the last couple of seasons?

The offseason carousel continues. With the drama going on over at Arrow McLaren SP to the surprise sale of IMS and the series, it’s been pretty much non-stop. Comparatively speaking, the changes at ECR seem rather insignificant. But don’t try telling that to Spencer Pigot.

George Phillips

Please Note: There has been a problem lately with the poll question format. I’m not sure what is going on, but I’m hoping they rectify things soon. They keep changing things up, and Change is Bad! Thanks for your patience. – GP

3 Responses to “The Offseason Drama Continues”

  1. Spencer seems like a good kid but he’s pretty anonymous as a driver, I usually forget he’s on the grid. Hope Daly gets a seat at ECR.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Spencer outperformed his teammate more often than not when his teammate was someone other than 2016 championship-contenders Josef Newgarden or Graham Rahal, though he rarely had races where he was very clearly the best ECR driver (only 7 times did he both start and finish ahead of his teammate). He has rarely, though, seemed to get a lot more out of the car than it was capable of, which is the kind of thing that keeps you in rides when you don’t bring money.

    I do think NBC should do a series chronicling his attempts to find a ride for this next season. They could call it “Spencer For Hire”. Or maybe ABC would be more interested…

  3. Luca Filippi’s 2nd place finish at Toronto for ECR when Josef Newgarden won the race for the Fisher side of the ECR garage seems to have been a bit forgotten. The team has still been great back then. If the team can get another road course specialist for the #20, it should be really good for them. Here’s hoping their engineering will also improve.

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