The Pacific Northwest will have a racer on the NTT IndyCar Series grid next season as Indy Lights graduate Benjamin Pedersen will join AJ Foyt Racing to fill one seat in the multi-car organization.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, the 23-year-old is a Seattle resident who has spent the past two seasons in the sport’s feeder series. In that span, he drove for Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports where he racked up 11 podiums, including a hometown victory at Portland earlier this month.
With Wednesday’s announcement etched in stone, Pedersen expressed how much this announcement fulfills the dream of competing in one of open-wheel racing’s pinnacle series.
“This is the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in the U.S., and to have the announcement today with AJ Foyt, pretty big dream-come-true moment,” said Pedersen. “Definitely I have worked really hard, and honestly just looking forward to staying working hard and getting going for the new season.
“It almost feels like a second year in a way with AJ Foyt Racing as I’ve been with the team this whole year shadowing and seeing how the transition will happen. The team has been super welcoming, and I just can’t wait to get to work.”
Now with one notable Foyt seat confirmed, Pederson is also the first confirmed rookie next season and currently the only rookie slated to run the 107th Indianapolis 500.
Team President Larry Foyt commented that the dual citizen has been on his radar for a period of time and sees potential from the man who finished fifth this past Indy Lights campaign.
“We’re really excited to have Benjamin on board. He’s been on our watch list for a little bit here, and he started to spend some time with us during last season,” said Foyt. “We had him around, and just really excited — the enthusiasm he’s bringing, watching him in some of the Lights races.
“I’m trying to think of the race, might have been Barber where there were drying conditions, and I was watching him drive that car on those shagged-out wet tires, and just really great to see the car control and to watch him really have a great weekend at Portland. Just his attitude, he’s coming in ready to learn and ready to give 1,000 percent, and he’s going to be a great asset to the team.”
Making the jump from Indy Lights to INDYCAR will present tremendous challenges for the Seattle native, who currently resides in Indianapolis. Among those challenges is coming to a series of circuits on which the Indy Lights series does not compete, notably the bigger tracks such as Texas and two of the most prestigious races in the sport — the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500.
The series announced its 2023 calendar on Tuesday. The 17-race schedule remains the same with the exception of Detroit, where it will run downtown instead of Belle Isle, something Pedersen felt the timing of both announcements could not have come at a more perfect time.
“Obviously the addition of the new races that we didn’t have for Lights this year are the big excitement factors. The Indy 500, Texas, Long Beach, all super iconic races, tracks. Just super excited to be a part of that,” said Pedersen. “Then also being able to return back to tracks that I’ve raced at pretty much my whole junior formula career, which is really nice, with the only difference being a new race car. Yeah, just super excited.”
In a way, Pedersen has been a part of the organization throughout the past season as part of a “driver in-waiting” program where he spent time with the squad as he learned the ins and outs of INDYCAR along with the teamwork dynamic that comes with it.
Finally, Foyt felt it was time for Pedersen to drive in one of his Chevrolets.
All thanks to organic chemistry and Pedersen’s willingness to learn behind the scenes while trying to make a name for himself in Indy Lights.
“It’s making me think back to the start of this season, going to Larry. It wasn’t like just a kind ask, it was kind of a, ‘Larry, I need to be a part of it this year and learn.’ So I would say it was something I was really eager to do because I knew INDYCAR was going to be the next step,” Pedersen reflected on the journey.
“I was definitely pushing Larry a little bit, like let me be a part of it; I really want to learn. I think that eagerness went a long way, and obviously, Larry let me stay for the whole year, and I learned a lot, especially through Kyle (Kirkwood), going through his rookie year.
“Honestly, I know everyone on the team personally pretty well now, and it’s pretty surreal being the fact that at the time I wasn’t even a full driver for AJ Foyt Racing yet. Just the whole team, super, super welcoming, and what a big help it has been even from my rookie INDYCAR test I had earlier in the year with that transition, but more so into this coming year.”
Five months is a long gap between the finale at Laguna Seca nearly three weeks ago to the season opener at St. Petersburg on March 5, 2023. Foyt explained he wants to have a two-car organization with the option of having three entries depending on funding.
Therefore, it’s another rebuild in Foyt’s camp which has its setbacks with off-season testing taking a back seat.
“Obviously it’s very early in the winter, but even though it seems like a long off-season in INDYCAR, it happens super quickly. Our season is so intense that this is where you really have to get a lot done,” Foyt commented.
“Kind of because of that, we pushed back testing. I don’t see ourselves doing much testing until the new year. We just want to make sure we have a plenty long winter list before we get into that. Want to see exactly where engineering is and all of that,” Foyt continued.
“Right now, what I’d say is we’re definitely two cars for sure, potentially could be three. I don’t want to speculate too much whether we’ll be two or three. But certainly two. There is a possibility of three, but I’m not sure where that’s going to end up yet.”
This past season, the team had three cars with Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, while Tatiana Calderon and J.R. Hildebrand co-shared the third entry.
However, Kirkwood will head to Andretti Autosport in 2023, replacing Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 Honda who will drive a third Arrow McLaren SP entry. Meanwhile, Kellett’s status is yet to be determined for next season, but no deadline has been set regarding a deal to be established.
On the other hand, the third car that Calderon and Hildebrand co-shared went under after the ninth round at Mid-Ohio. With race teams such as Dale Coyne Racing pairing up with other organizations like HMD Motorsports, Foyt is aware of such practice where he may look into in the future.
“You see some of us smaller teams, if we can do a collaboration that’s successful like that, it can definitely help because as these other teams, McLaren continues to grow, and we already know the strength of the Penske and Ganassi groups,” said Foyt. “The more smart people in the room, I always like that, and no, really looking forward to seeing some of their input, as well.”