What to watch for: IndyCar at Barber

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Bounce-back for RHR, Power?: IndyCar’s two main championship contenders from a year ago make up today’s front row for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured) and defending Barber champion Will Power had dismal results in the season opener last month at St. Petersburg. They know that they can’t afford another early “mulligan” today.

AJ Allmendinger returns: The former Champ Car racer is returning to open-wheel action on one of IndyCar’s most physically demanding tracks. He’s been working hard to prepare for the rigors of battling Barber, and got in some test time there during the “Spring Training” sessions in March. But testing is one thing and racing a full field – and a very deep one, at that – is another. A Top-10 finish would be a solid result for him to work from as he heads toward Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500.

Get a grip: A newly-resurfaced track at Barber has played a big role in the higher speeds we’ve seen this weekend, but so have modified Firestone Firehawks. Compared to the tires used in last year’s race at Barber, this year’s versions of both the primary blacks and alternate reds have a softer compound. It’ll be interesting to see which drivers can protect their tires (especially their rear ones) along the course of a stint and stretch them out a little further.

Caught in the web: The main “hot spot” for passing at Barber Motorsports Park is Turn 5 (Charlotte’s Web), which is a left-hand hairpin that is the slowest part of the course. Drivers have two chances to make up ground here with an inside pass at either the apex of the corner or coming off of it at Turn 6. Even with the emergence of new passing zones in last year’s race, Charlotte’s Web remains the signature corner at Barber and you can expect a lot of action here all day long.

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.”