By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ed Carpenter Racing’s duo of Spencer Pigot and JR Hildebrand had some good moments during Sunday’s season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
For Pigot, the road and street course specialist in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet, it was a lot of good moments before a major bad one.
Pigot qualified 13th, but worked his way up to fifth before the final caution of the race on Lap 26. With only one car in front of him pitting before the yellow, Pigot’s moves on track were based on legitimate pace, which wasn’t surprising given that he was fourth fastest in the morning warmup session.
“We made a few changes overnight Saturday and it seemed to really work well for us Sunday morning and into the race. That’s confidence inspiring that we can make a change and really see the results on track,” Pigot said.
Pigot came into the pits on Lap 27 but suffered a massive mechanical failure in the left rear of the car.
“I think we came into the pits in P5 and it was looking good, but unfortunately we had a problem with the left rear braking system and something broke that finally took us out of the race,” Pigot said.
The 2015 Indy Lights champion ran until Lap 71 and when he was unable to gain any more positions, it was decided to retire the car, finishing 21st..
Meanwhile, for JR Hildebrand, his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet started in 19th and had a higher mountain to climb. Hildebrand played his strategy well and ended up in fifth after the first round of pit stops were completed, but a lack of race pace had him drop to ninth before his next pit stop.
However, Hildebrand is looking at the weekend as a positive because of what the team learned.
“All in all, we have a lot to look forward to coming from here going to races further down the road,” Hildebrand said.
“There’s a lot of things we know we can improve and for me, it’s really encouraging that I think we know what the things are that we can improve on.
“It’s not just like we need to go faster, we need to do a better job, whatever, there’s some very specific and tactile things that we know we can work toward and improve from a pace perspective and even from a race perspective.”
This was the 2009 Indy Lights champion’s first street race since Sao Paulo in 2013 and he was upbeat afterward.
“I feel good about just getting one in the books and getting one under our belts,” Hildebrand said.
“I felt good physically in the car which, being out of it for so long, is always in the back of your mind you want to make sure you’re going to be ready for it.
“I think there were some ways where we could’ve had a little bit of a tidier race today and maybe had a few more positions under our belt but all in all, a good result given where we qualified and a lot to work with going forward.”
Hildebrand only sees opportunity for improvement, however.
“We’ve got to take every lap on track as an opportunity to do something better. You know, whether that’s me or us as a team. Hopefully, put ourselves in position so a few races from now we’re firing on all cylinders and can be competitive and know why we’re competitive on a regular basis.”
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