Sunday, July 16, 2023

INDYCAR: Danish drivers bookend the field at Toronto


by William Soquet Staff Writer

Benjamin Pedersen finished last for the 2nd time in his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto on the streets of Toronto when his #55 Sexton Properties Chevrolet crashed without completing any of the race’s 85 laps.

The finish came in Pedersen’s 10th career start and was his first since the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, nine races ago. In IndyCar Series history, it was the 205th due to crash damage, the 109th for Chevrolet and the 10th for the #55.

Following a first-lap exit in his series debut at St. Petersburg, Pedersen immediately found better footing in his first IndyCar oval race. Circling Texas Motor Speedway, he qualified 13th and brought home a lead-lap finish in 15th. From there, however, it was back on the struggle bus, with finishes of 24th, 22nd, and 24th again in the next three road courses with a combined nine laps lost to the lead. While teammate Santino Ferrucci stole many headlines during the month of May, it was a solid one for Pederson, too. He made the Fast Twelve for the first time in his career and ran solidly until a pileup on a late-race restart took him out of contention. He survived a chaotic race on the streets of Detroit, albeit three laps down, but found another bright spot at Road America. The rookie again put his car in the second round of qualifying and started tenth. However, a couple off-course excursions knocked him down the running order to 21st, identical to his finish in the Indianapolis 500. Mid-Ohio was not the best of races for Pedersen. The Foyt team was lacking on pace as a whole, but he fought tooth and nail to stay on the lead lap, drawing the ire of eventual race winner Alex Palou. Not only that, he also drove his tail off to try and not be lapped by each of the top handful of cars, which eventually led to Scott McLaughlin paying Pedersen a visit after the race in his pit box about the antics.

In a slow news cycle, Pedersen’s antics may have been the biggest story leading into Toronto. Thankfully for him, it wasn’t. Palou’s quest to win four in a row garnered significant coverage, as did the impeding moves of many drivers. However, it was the only entry list change that caught the most attention. After a frightening brake failure and barrel roll crash in practice at Mid-Ohio, Simon Pagenaud was still not cleared by the IndyCar medical team to compete at Toronto. Taking the reins of his Meyer Shank Racing entry was Tom Blomqvist, who drives an MSR prototype in the IMSA WeatherTech Challenge. Blomqvist has been all but confirmed to be taking Helio Castroneves’ spot at MSR in IndyCar next year, and with IMSA off this weekend, he was a natural choice to track his performance in IndyCar.

Pedersen’s A.J. Foyt Racing teammate Santino Ferrucci was the slowest car in first practice, with Blomqvist in 26th and Pedersen in 25th. The #14 shot up the charts to 17th in second practice, with the #55 also moving up to 22nd. The #60 remained at the bottom of the charts, a couple tenths behind Sting Ray Robb. Weather became a major factor in qualifying, with a dry Group 1 and a wet Group 2. Blomqvist was able to push his car up to 10th in Group 2, while Pedersen was last in Group 1. Graham Rahal suffered mightily in wet conditions, with a couple of incidents causing his fastest lap to be about nine seconds behind the rest of the field.

Rahal was the last-place starter, which created a unique ‘bookend’ scenario as his teammate Christian Lundgaard won the pole. At the start of the race, Rahal noticeably hung back a couple car lengths and did not try to race 26th-place starter Alexander Rossi for position. At the end of the first long straightaway, Jack Harvey, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Blomqvist, who started 19th through 21st, came out of a corner three-wide. Harvey washed up the track, which pinched Hunter-Reay into Blomqvist, then Blomqvist into the outside wall. All three cars then spun and nearly blocked the track. It was a chain reaction from there, as the bottom four starters – Ferrucci, Pedersen, Alexander Rossi and Rahal – all piled in. Rossi was able to avoid the brunt of it while Ferrucci and Pedersen both were rear-ended by the cars behind them. Of those involved, Harvey, Blomqvist, Hunter-Reay and Pedersen were forced to retire, with Pedersen picking up the last-place finish based on starting positions.

It was a shame for Blomqvist who, like Pedersen earlier this year, saw his season debut last only a couple corners. There was also a unique ‘bookend’ situation at the end of the race, as drivers from Denmark filled out both ends of the field with Lundgaard picking up his first career IndyCar Series win. The win was an impressive one for both driver and team – RLL had three of the slowest four cars in Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Lundgaard is also one of the first of a new wave of ex-Formula 2 drivers in IndyCar to win, a list that may include Callum Ilott and Marcus Armstrong in short order.

Devlin DeFrancesco filled out the Bottom Five, as IndyCar’s only Canadian spent extended time on pit road early in the race and eventually parked after ten laps, citing issues with the brakes.

*This is the first time since St. Petersburg of this year that the last-place finisher has not completed any laps.
*The 2023 season marks the first time since 2002 that the #55 car has finished last more than once. Rick Treadway finished last at Texas and Kansas that season.
*The 25th-place starter has now finished last exactly once in each year of the 2020s: Dalton Kellett in the 2020 October Indy GP, RC Enerson in the 2021 August Indy GP, Tatiana Calderon at Barber last year, and Pedersen this weekend.

27) #55-Benjamin Pedersen / 0 laps / crash
26) #20-Ryan Hunter-Reay / 0 laps / crash
25) #60-Tom Blomqvist / 0 laps / crash
24) #30-Jack Harvey / 0 laps / crash
23) #29-Devlin DeFrancesco / 10 laps / brakes

1st) Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing (3)
2nd) A.J. Foyt Racing (2)
3rd) Juncos Hollinger Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1)

1st) Honda (7)
2nd) Chevrolet (3)


No comments: