Monday, March 6, 2023

INDYCAR: Benjamin Pedersen’s debut over as it begins

SCREENSHOT: NBC Sports, from practice

by William Soquet Staff Writer

Benjamin Pedersen scored the 1st last-place finish of his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg when his #55 Sexton Properties Chevrolet crashed out of the race without completing any of the 100 laps.

The finish came in Pedersen’s series debut. In IndyCar Series history, it was the 199th due to a crash, the 9th for #55, and the 107th for Chevrolet.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Pedersen was raised in Seattle and was exposed to racing at an early age through his father, Christian, who was involved with the Lotus Formula One team. Benjamin spent most of his childhood racing motocross and go-karts and began his formula racing career in 2016 at 17, looking towards an eventual goal of racing in F1. He spent two years in American Formula 4 before spending a year running both F4 and American F3 and a year solely running F3 in 2019. During the 2019 season, he went on a tear, winning seven races en route to a runner-up finish in the championship standings behind current IMSA driver Dakota Dickerson. During the pandemic-affected 2020 season, he drove full-time in the British F3 Championship and also competed in the first five rounds of the Formula Regional Americas championship.

Bolstered by support from his father’s Global Racing Group enterprise, Pedersen moved to Indy Lights in 2021, partnering with another team founded by a driver’s father – HMD Motorsports, run by Henry Malukas. Pedersen stood on the podium in his series debut and totaled five more throughout the season, good for fourth in the standings. The 2022 season was much the same story with five podiums, a breakthrough win at Portland, and a fifth-place finish in the standings.

With Pedersen looking to make the jump to IndyCar after 2022, the driver connected with A.J. Foyt Racing early in '22 and fit in so well that he was on top of a team pit box for many races during the back half of the season. The team officially announced the signing of Pedersen to a multi-year contract on September 28th, only two-and-a-half weeks after the season finale. The move also filled a hole for the team, which saw Kyle Kirkwood depart to Andretti Autosport, replacing Alexander Rossi, who joined an expanding Arrow McLaren squad. Dalton Kellett also left the team to pursue non-racing opportunities. 

Pedersen’s car was revealed on January 19th, with a coyote red livery to match Foyt’s scheme from his final two Indianapolis 500 wins and a number of 88 to match Foyt’s age, matched with teammate Santino Ferrucci, who returned after a few starts in NASCAR to run the flagship 14. When social media made reference to the outdated extremist ideologies that once used the 14 and 88 as part of their dogma - a reference completely unintended by the Foyt team - Pedersen's entry was nevertheless changed to the 55.

Pedersen made his preseason debut at The Thermal Club for open testing, finishing last of the 27 full-time entrants both days.

The entry list, while not featuring any unexpected or part-time entries, still stood at a solid 27 cars and featured a number of changes. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers Jack Harvey and Christian Lundgaard swapped numbers, with Harvey moving from the #30 to the #45 and Lundgaard making the coinciding switch. Besides Pedersen, three other rookies also joined the IndyCar field: Sting Ray Robb replaced Takuma Sato in Dale Coyne Racing’s #51 entry, Augustin Canapino jumped into a new second Juncos Hollinger Racing car, and Marcus Armstrong signed on for road and street courses in the renumbered #11 for Chip Ganassi Racing, replacing Jimmie Johnson. 

Pedersen had a rough go of his debut IndyCar weekend, placing last in opening practice after brushing the wall at the end of the back straightaway due to a brake lockup. He didn’t fare much better a day later in second practice, placing 25th. The two cars that he outpaced in second practice were fellow rookie Robb and second-year driver Devlin DeFrancesco. Ironically, it would not be Pedersen’s last brush with DeFrancesco on the weekend.

In qualifying, Pedersen was assigned to the second group. He was slowest of the group's 14 cars, running a fast lap of 1 minute, 1.86 seconds. Despite that the first group featured two cars that qualified slower, Pedersen drew the last starting spot as that group only had 13 cars.

The grid was the largest ever for an IndyCar race at St. Petersburg, and with a bigger field came more action on the initial start. Contact between Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist near Turn 3 caused Rosenqvist to brush the wall and slow down. In the ensuing corners, a chain reaction of cars checking up caused Ferrucci to spin Helio Castroneves across the track. David Malukas then spun DeFrancesco behind those two cars. Robb then clipped Simon Pagenaud trying to avoid the wreck, tearing off Robb’s nose cone and breaking Pagenaud’s steering. As the tail end of the field spilled out of Turn 4, Robb went low, Conor Daly went high and Pedersen took the middle, plowing straight into the drivers side of DeFrancesco’s stopped car. The bright-green machine of DeFrancesco shot up in the air, did a 180-degree spin, and came to rest by Castroneves’ car.

Pedersen, Pagenaud, DeFrancesco, Ferrucci and Castroneves all retired from damage they sustained and filled out the Bottom Five.

*This marks the first last-place finish for the #55 since June 8, 2002, when Rick Treadway crashed out of the Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
*Pedersen is the second consecutive series debutant to finish last at St. Petersburg after David Malukas crashed out after 23 laps in 2022.
*The finish is the second IndyCar last-place finish by a Danish driver; Christian Lundgaard succumbed to brake issues last year at Iowa.

27) #55-Benjamin Pedersen / 0 laps / crash
26) #06-Simon Pagenaud / 0 laps / crash
25) #27-Devlin DeFrancesco / 0 laps / crash
24) #14-Santino Ferrucci / 0 laps / crash
23) #60-Helio Castroneves / 0 laps / crash

1st) A.J. Foyt Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (1)


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