Cabot Bigham: Take 02

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Matt Kalish (1, 3, 8); Corey Silvia (2, 4-7, 9)

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It’s another cold February day in Boston when Cabot Bigham strolls into the Beantown Pub for brunch. Though you wouldn’t know it, he’s at the end of a five-day media tour that took him through New England to build up hype for his newest gig: a seat at Andretti Rallycross, alongside the legendary Tanner Foust, to compete for the 2019 Americas Rallycross championship.

“It’s crazy to think that within three months, we went from a full season of ARX2 with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, to now being in the four-time championship-winning car with Tanner Foust,” he admits. “I had only been in rallycross, and even known of rallycross, a year and a half the first time I went to Supercar.”

But that’s exactly the kind of whirlwind career that Bigham’s had so far. Three years ago, the Mill Valley, California native was an open-wheel convert who was getting used to rallycross cars for the very first time. Since then, he’s become a series champion, moved up to a Supercar, removed from the seat and put back in, returned to the second-level series, and now been called up again—this time, to replace another champion in Scott Speed.

No pressure, right?

The Story So Far

Since bursting on the scene as part of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Lites team in 2016, Bigham has always been one of the most attention-grabbing personalities in the rallycross paddock. Attention-grabbing but not overstated, colorful but not unapproachable, “The Big Ham” has already done more to build a brand for himself in three years than some drivers will do in 30.

But a brand is meaningless, especially in motorsports, without some results to back it up, and Bigham delivered immediately. He scored a podium in his first-ever GRC Lites race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix, and scored his first victory later in the year at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. In the season finale from the Port of Los Angeles, Bigham drove from the back of the grid to first place, and thanks in part to rough luck for defending champion Oliver Eriksson, scored the championship by a single finishing position.

That title opened doors at the Supercar level, where Bigham joined both Eriksson and 2014 Lites champion Mitchell deJong as full-time rookies for the 2017 season. But while both Eriksson and deJong would have the factory support of Honda at Olsbergs MSE, Bigham slotted in at the privateer Bryan Herta Rallysport squad, a team that won in each of its first two seasons with Patrik Sandell but was now campaigning a single car for a rookie driver.

The new combination had its initial growing pains, but after Austin Cindric stepped in for the penultimate round of the season in Seattle, Bigham returned a more confident driver and scored a season-best result in Los Angeles. Still, with nothing available for 2018, Bigham elected to return to DRR in ARX2 to find his groove again.

“That was a very quick jump,” Bigham says of his initial move up. “It was necessary to come back down to ARX2, I think, otherwise I would have been very discouraged very quickly. I wouldn’t have been able to see the differences between teams, as far as what goes into an Andretti Volkswagen rallycross program and what goes into a privateer program. It’s just a very different level of investment and opportunity.”

Being one of the only drivers with Supercar experience to run ARX2 in 2018 gave Bigham a fresh perspective that his rivals may not yet have had. As a result, he made three of the four finals he attempted, and although mechanical troubles in the second Canadian race relegated him to last, the shift in mindset helped keep him from dwelling too long on the missed opportunity.

“With ARX2 specifically, the cars are so finicky, and they engineered the problems into them, in a way,” Bigham explains. “The suspension components break constantly with very minimal contact and the electronics on them are not bulletproof. As a result, you have all these kids that are gunning for the top spot, because there’s a little bit of ignorance in an ARX2 driver. The thought is ‘if I don’t win, I’m not going to do anything in this sport. If I’m not the champion, why even bother?’ With that, you get people who are just kamikazes, and on the other side of it, you have people who are trying to have a good attitude when things go wrong and still talk to fans and sign stuff.

“That’s what I learned in being able to go to Supercar and have that new level of fan and interested spectator, and then step back down to ARX2 where it’s not as tense. You get to see what the real differences are between them, and that’s interesting to see. But once you start forward thinking and planning into the future, it makes it seem easier. It’s like when you’re driving into a corner and looking into it, you have more time to react. Same exact principle. And that’s something that I learned from going back and forth twice now.”

The Call

Ready to recommit to the sport, Bigham initially planned to reunite with DRR for his third ARX2 season with the team in 2019. But as it so often does in racing, one phone call changed everything—and in this case, that call came from JF Thormann, who heads up Andretti Autosport’s dominant rallycross program. For those who haven’t been following along, the team’s Volkswagen Beetles have decimated the Supercar competition for the past four years, with Scott Speed winning each title. But with Speed taking his talents to Subaru Motorsports USA for 2019, the team’s second seat alongside Tanner Foust had an opening.

“I think it was November, December that we decided we wanted to commit to this,” Bigham says. “It was a couple weeks after SEMA. Based on who we met, where we are with our sponsors and our relationships, this is where we needed to be. So we kept hammering out the details, and it took time, but it’s finally gotten to the point where we signed it. Now, it’s getting with our sponsors again and getting the nitty gritty of rallycross stuff organized.”

“Right before JF called, we were pretty committed with Dreyer for ARX2,” adds Corey Silvia, Bigham’s manager.

“We were on the phone with them for weeks,” Bigham admits. “That was the best fit. They were giving the best price, but even with that, I was so hesitant to run ARX2. I don’t need to go back to that. I’ve seen how inconsistent the parts are, and you can totally have your championship hopes squashed by a (bad part). At least with Supercar, you get all that momentum, all the hype and buzz around the ARX community. And it’s year two, with Scott at a completely different manufacturer, so there’s going to be a lot of people watching.”

“I think doing three quarters of a season in ARX2 was huge,” Silvia continues. “(Cabot) had some issues with engine trouble, but his attitude was how it normally is. And I think Volkswagen saw that he’s sticking with it, he’s still in it. It just came out of nowhere, basically, in November.

“I remember him telling me ‘JF from Andretti called,’ and I was like ‘what?!’ Because we had talked to (Steve) Arpin, but we weren’t thinking Andretti.”

After weeks of negotiations, Bigham and Andretti agreed to the deal for 2019 over the winter. The next few months were a race to tie up all of the loose ends properly, and so the deal wasn’t actually announced until the end of April. Regardless of the delay in announcement, though, Bigham’s mind was constantly at work, planning not only for the year ahead but his career down the road.

“It kind of makes you think more forward,” Bigham says. “It’s just tough financially. If you’re not blessed with some sort of fallback on the financials, it’s really hard to stay around in the sport, especially because there’s not a huge ladder system. (So) you’re looking five, 10 years down the road, at how to pivot yourself to the desires of the manufacturers.

“The fans and the manufacturers run the sport, and that’s where the money comes from. Once you find what’s going to make them happy, and what’s going to help them get to that goal, I want to be that person. I want to do my research and find out how to be that guy.”

Meeting the Team

Of course, preparing for the season meant heading to Indianapolis to get acclimated to the new team, and Bigham was more than happy to make the flight east. In the Andretti Autosport shop, he found plenty of reasons to be impressed with an organization that counts itself among the most dominant in North American motorsports.

“I’ve been to the shop for a couple of days, met all the team guys and engineers,” Bigham notes. “We just kind of joked around and got to know each other, and that was really cool. I think just being there was very powerful, because they were excited to see who I was. Maybe only a couple of them had even known of me due to the split of series.

“Meeting them was really powerful, and being able to see the scale of the shop, what they have as a program, the ability of what they can do… the shop itself is unbelievable in size. There are 130+ employees there just bustling away, whether it’s in IndyCar, GT4 McLaren, sprint car, or rallycross—whatever it is, it’s all there and it’s really cool.”

But the rallycross squad still boasts many of the same team members who sent Speed to the top of the sport over the past few years. Including both GRC and ARX events, the team has scored 31 victories, with Speed’s non-points triumph at the final GRC X Games event in 2015 the win that tips the scales in his favor. With the Beetle no longer in production, 2019 is likely its last season, and the team wants to keep the iconic marque on top.

“I think part of what excited me the most was being able to talk to my immediate team, the guys who are going to be my engineers, mechanics, and on pre-grid with me,” Bigham says. “It was talking with them, and seeing them get excited about beating Subaru as a privateer team.

“The way the guys described it was, ‘look, if we win this championship, it’s going to be the cherry on top of this entire Beetle legacy, and the perfect sendoff.’ And I think that’s awesome. That really motivated me. Obviously I want to win this championship with or without that, but it’s just another thing to keep the fire going.”

“Honestly, one of the biggest things I saw at Andretti was how they saw Cabot the person,” Silvia continues. “Even JF said he’s very similar to Tanner, he could be Tanner’s younger brother. They look alike, they act alike. They were super pumped about his attitude, and his brand too, as someone who’s trying to be successful with his brand.”

Beyond even that, Bigham also gets a chance this season to race alongside and learn from Foust, the driver whose rallycross exploits brought the sport to America in the first place. As the only driver to compete in every single event on American soil since the debut of the sport in 2010, Foust will be a sure first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee if the sport ever builds one.

“(Working with Tanner is) an opportunity in itself,” Bigham says, with his reverence for Foust clear in his voice. “I can’t speak highly enough of Tanner. He’s done so many things in his time as a driver—he’s involved in so many different types of motorsport, he’s been in so many video games with Microsoft, he’s a talk show host, it’s just incredible. He’s just a well-rounded businessman, driver, ambassador, the list goes on. So I want to learn as much as I can from him, meet as many people as possible that he knows and is willing to introduce me to.

“As someone who was new to racing at 10 or 12 years old, I knew who Tanner Foust was, purely because I was watching action sports athletes. I was watching Nitro Circus, I was watching Ken Block’s Gymkhana stuff. Whatever it was, I wanted to see it.

“I was into skateboarding, I was into rock and roll, I was into whatever the hell teenagers do, right? I’m only 22 and I don’t even know.”

“In Cabot’s younger years,” Silvia jokes, and both laugh.

Go Time

This weekend, it all finally comes together. Bigham and Andretti Rallycross will take on their first race together as ARX opens its season at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It’s yet another brand new layout for the US’ top rallycross teams and drivers, as the all-too-familiar unfamiliarity with a season-opening track continues; dating back to GRC’s inaugural season in 2011, every season-opening event has been on a previously unraced track layout.

That doesn’t faze Bigham much, though. If anything would, it might be the pressure of replacing the sport’s four-time defending Supercar champion, but even then…

“No more than normal,” Bigham dismisses the notion. “I always feel pressure every year, because I know what my sponsors have committed to being here, I know what I’ve done to be here, what my parents have done. So I’ll always feel that type of pressure to perform. But for the past three, four years in rallycross, I’ve been able to find ways that work for me to step away from that pressure and see clearly and think clearly through my own methods. Controlled breathing, my routines.

“On a scale of 1-10, I’d say I feel about a 5 leading up to the season, and at times when you’re at the track, a 7 or 8. But I never feel full panic mode at the track, because I know when I get into full panic mode at home, I’m useless! I can’t step back and see things clearly, I have tunnel vision, I’m pissed. That’s not helpful in a racecar, so I try to minimize those freakouts.”

The pressure may not be any higher now than it’s been before, but rallycross itself hasn’t changed: it’s still short bursts of intense, multi-surface racing with wheel-to-wheel contact, jumps, and plenty of crashing. Still, Bigham’s no stranger to that anymore, and he’s more than ready to strap in.

“Everyone who loves racecars primarily loves it because of how insane it is, right?” Bigham asks. “Driving that fast as a human being is all stressful. Your body’s trying to be stressed at every possible moment, and part of being a driver is learning how to control that. So it’s not new to me to be stressed, it’s just not different (with Andretti). The only thing that’s different is we have so many resources behind us to be faster.”

And between those resources and his previous experience, Bigham’s second chance behind the wheel of a Supercar just might see driver #02 wind up as number one in the championship.

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