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Spencer Pigot set for IndyCar debut at Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

As Windermere's Spencer Pigot crisscrossed Florida for go-cart events, he hoped to one day advance to the top rung of open-wheel racing.

So it's only fitting that the 22-year-old will make his IndyCar debut only two hours from his hometown, in Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

"Obviously my first race in IndyCar is going to be a special moment," Pigot (PIG-it) said. "There's no better place for me to do it."

Pigot's love of racing began long before his family moved to Florida when he was 8. The California native was 3 when he started asking about racing like his father, Barry.

"You think every little kid wants to be a race car driver — but he kept saying it," said his mother, Shelby. "When he was 4, when he was 5. … It didn't take a lot of convincing on my husband's part."

Motorcycles and BMX bikes turned into carts and, eventually, cars.

Pigot was active in other ways, too, playing soccer and tennis. But by the time he was 12, his competition kept increasing — as did his trophy shelf. Pigot decided to drop the other sports to focus on racing.

"At that point it was always for fun — the dream, maybe, one day," Pigot said. "You never really thought about it too seriously."

It took a few more championships and scholarships before Pigot considered racing a potential career. He kept climbing the sport's ladder, and his parents began putting as much time into his racing as they did their furniture business.

In 2011, he signed with Andretti Autosport in 2011 and joined IndyCar's Road to Indy feeder program. Three wins and four poles later, Pigot was on his way to becoming one of the sport's rising stars.

Pigot cemented that title last year in the season's final weekend. He entered the final two races at California's Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca second in points in Indy Lights, the top feeder series for IndyCar.

"It was really a winner-take-all situation because we were that close," Pigot said.

Pigot qualified third, then jumped into second in the first corner. He forced the leader to make a mistake, then stole the lead to cruise to victory. Pigot won the final race that weekend, too, to secure the series championship as a rookie and a $1 million scholarship to fund three IndyCar races — St. Petersburg, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 100th Indianapolis 500.

"It was really a picture-perfect weekend," Pigot said. "…It was an amazing weekend I don't think any of us will ever forget."

But it's one that won't help him much when practice begins Friday.

Pigot has limited experience in the No. 16 car he'll have to navigate around the 1.8-mile downtown street course. Before last week's test in Sebring, Pigot had only driven an IndyCar machine once before — and that was with a different team and engine manufacturer (Team Penske/Chevrolet) than what he'll pilot this week (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda). Pigot needed a 20-page packet just to learn all of the steering wheel's buttons and knobs.

Regardless of how his first run in the series turns out, Pigot is thrilled at the opportunity in front of him. His grandparents are flying in from California, and friends will make the short drive from Orlando to watch his IndyCar debut.

After years of watching stars like Helio Castroneves or Scott Dixon, Pigot will finally be competing against them.

"It's pinch-me time," his mom said. "That's what I keep saying to my friends. I'm in pinch-me mode."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

.FAST FACTS

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

IndyCar season opener, 12:30 p.m. Sunday

TV: Ch. 28

Course: Downtown streets, 1.8-mile circuit that also includes part of Albert Whitted Airport

Tickets: Call toll-free 1-877-725-8849 or go to gpstpete.com. Three-day packages start at $30 for general admission for ages 12 and under and $55 for general admission adult packages. Three-day paddock and pit pass is $125 for ages 18 and over only. Three-day reserved packages $70-$100 for 12 and under, $105-$135 for adults. Single-day tickets start at $20 on Friday for 12 and under and range up to $100 for adult race-day reserved tickets in upper rows.

Spencer Pigot set for IndyCar debut at Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 03/08/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 10:21pm]
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