Mix of surprises and stars in St. Pete Fast Six

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At least three of IndyCar’s “usual suspects” and three surprises created a compelling mix of drivers in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Firestone Fast Six.

Will Power (eight times), Helio Castroneves (four) and James Hinchcliffe (five) made regular trips to the top six a year ago. Power, unsurprisingly, secured his fourth straight pole in St. Petersburg.

But Takuma Sato, Simona de Silvestro and Tristan Vautier (right) had a combined one Firestone Fast Six appearance between them – Sato’s fourth place qualifying run at Edmonton a year ago – so were no doubt the big surprises of the day.

Sato and de Silvestro have each shown pace and an immediate gelling with their new teams, A.J. Foyt Racing and KV Racing Technology, this weekend, while IndyCar rookie Vautier has already taken like a duck to water on debut.

“It’s very cool, and it’s a lot of fun now,” said Vautier. “But I was a little nervous going in. The work I’ve done with Allen McDonald (engineer) and the whole team has been great.”

Sato and Vautier defended Honda’s performance, as Honda has been frequently down on the time charts this weekend although the collective nature of the field is close.

“I don’t think we, as Honda, have issues,” said Sato. “We have a good balance and a good chassis. I know Honda has been working really hard.”

For de Silvestro, making her first ever Firestone Fast Six appearance in four seasons (her prior best start was seventh at Edmonton, 2010), the ability to maximize her innate speed is something she has had to prove this weekend.

“To be honest, this winter I had a lot of doubts,” she admitted. “I wondered if I could still be fast? But it has been a big relief to be up front.”

De Silvestro and Vautier each outqualified their more heralded teammates; Tony Kanaan will start 11th, Simon Pagenaud 19th.

 

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”