Thursday, August 31, 2023

INDYCAR: Benjamin Pedersen suffers third first-lap exit of 2023

PHOTO: A.J. Foyt Racing

by William Soquet Staff Writer

Benjamin Pedersen finished last for the 3rd time in his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway when his #55 Sexton Properties Chevrolet crashed out of the race before completing any of the race’s 260 laps.

The finish came in Pedersen’s 15th career start and was his first since Toronto, five races ago. Across NTT IndyCar Series history, it was the 11th for the #55, the 111th for Chevrolet and the 207th due to a crash.

Since his last-place finish at Toronto, the struggles have continued for the Danish-American rookie. He finished 15 laps down on pace in the first Iowa race and was disqualified in the second for running too slow. At Nashville, Pedersen was the victim of a late-race stack-up and failed to finish the race. His car then didn't fire at the start of the Indianapolis GP, leaving him several laps down at the start of the race. Pedersen’s last finish better than 23rd was Road America back in the middle of June. 

However, some bright news for A.J. Foyt Racing arrived before Gateway, as Team Penske announced a technical alliance for the team. Aside from engineering support, Penske also noted that in the future, Foyt would be used to house Penske's junior drivers who weren’t ready for the big team yet. It's still unclear what this means for Pederson. While he has plenty of funding and is thought to have a multi-year deal with Foyt, anything can happen in this crazy IndyCar silly season.

The entry list for Gateway looked marginally different than that of the Indianapolis GP. Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato returned for their final races in oval-only programs - Carpenter in a third car for his team and Sato filling Chip Ganassi’s #11. Simon Pagenaud will continue to recover from a vicious crash at Mid-Ohio for the remainder of the season, and Meyer Shank Racing again tabbed last year’s Indy Lights champion Linus Ludqvist to fill the #60. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing got a jump on silly season and parted ways early with Jack Harvey. Conor Daly got the call to drive for this race. It has been quite the season for Daly, who started the season as a full-time driver for Ed Carpenter Racing but was released midseason. Iowa marked Daly’s fourth race as a sub, making him IndyCar’s de facto “super sub” of the 2023 season.

Due to constant rain on Saturday, there was only one practice session ahead of the race, run late on Saturday evening. Graham Rahal was slowest in the session, continuing a brutal oval run this year that included a crash at Texas, failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 on speed, and a crash at Iowa. His fastest lap was a 26.4. Pedersen was 26th on the charts, making a hot lap of 26.13 seconds.

Qualifying involved single-car two-lap runs with the starting order determined not by the fastest lap but by total time. Carpenter, who was sandwiched between Pedersen and Rahal in qualifying, recorded the slowest combined time in qualifying at a 51.58. Santino Ferrucci was immediately ahead of him on the charts while Pedersen was 26th with a two-lap time of 50.92 seconds.

Due to a multitude of grid penalties issued for engine changes, Agustin Canapino dropped from his 21st qualifying position to the rear of the field before the race. This pushed the entire bottom seven up one position for the start.

At the start of the race, several drivers in the midpack fanned out from the original double-wide start to go three and four-wide into Turn 1, kicking up some oil dry dust on the bottom of the track. Pedersen slowed for the corner behind the car of Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Carpenter’s left-front plowed into Pedersen’s right-rear, sending the #55 spinning. Pedersen backed hard into the turn one outside wall, ending his day. There were differing opinions as to whether the oil dry impeded his vision or not, but Carpenter served a 30-second stop and hold penalty in pit lane for avoidable contact, which put him three laps down to the field during the opening green flag run.

Callum Ilott, Sato and Josef Newgarden were all eliminated from the race in single-car crashes. Newgarden led 98 laps prior to the crash and was looking to sweep the IndyCar oval season this year. However, both that and any championship hopes dried up with his crash. Carpenter's was the last car running, six laps down by the end of the race.

*Pedersen’s first three last-place finishes have all come via first-lap crashes. He is the first driver in IndyCar Series history (since 1996) to do so.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #55 on an oval since Kosuke Matsuura, who had a first-lap crash on 4/21/2007 at Motegi.
*Pedersen is the only driver this year to finish last with 0 laps completed in any race.

28) #55-Benjamin Pedersen / 0 laps / crash
27) #77-Callum Ilott / 58 laps / crash
26) #11-Takuma Sato / 119 laps / crash
25) #2-Josef Newgarden / 210 laps / crash
24) #33-Ed Carpenter / 254 laps / running

1st) Honda (10)
2nd) Chevrolet (5)

1st) Dale Coyne Racing (5)
2nd) A.J. Foyt Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing (3)
3rd) Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2)
4th) Arrow McLaren SP, Juncos Hollinger Racing (1)


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