Starring roles for Viso, Conway, Jakes and Tag in Detroit Fast Six

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It’s hard to call anything in IndyCar this year “surprising” but a Firestone Fast Six that includes E.J. Viso, Mike Conway, James Jakes and Alex Tagliani might fit that description.

Viso has taken like a duck to water (and note both were present on Friday) to his new team of Andretti Autosport this season and has his second consecutive Fast Six appearance. He qualified fifth for this race last year, and second last time out on a street course in Brazil. He’ll start first in Race 1 tomorrow after a 10-spot grid penalty has hit Dario Franchitti, for an unapproved engine change.

“This qualifying was fun,” Viso said of the effort executed by the No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti/HVM team. “One of the sessions was a fully wet session, then the second one was damp, then the third one was fully dry.”

Just Wednesday, Conway went from the sidelines to a race seat by taking over Dale Coyne’s second car for this weekend, after Ana Beatriz’s deal ran out. Conway – regarded by many in the paddock as one of IndyCar’s top street racers – fit in immediately in the No. 18 Honda and was bang-on pace from the get-go.

“Yeah, I mean, obvious not easy jumping in and getting the job done,” Conway admitted. “I think obviously Justin (Wilson) has done a great job with the car over the year.  It felt good.  It’s definitely a handful around here. I just felt comfortable as soon as I got in. If you can just get up to speed really fast knowing everything is all good, it makes your job a lot easier.”

Jakes (pictured), third on the grid, has his best ever IndyCar qualifying effort (beats eighth at Motegi, Japan in 2011) and is the second of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers to make a Fast Six this year – Conway did in his one-off appearance at Long Beach.

“I think the biggest key was staying patient,” said the driver of the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda. “We were out in the first group, of the first 12.  It was quite a bit wetter, you just had to make sure you had a clear lap at the end of the session with a couple of minutes to go to maximize the potential out of the car.  I think we did that.”

Tagliani led the morning’s practice session, which was frequently interrupted. He kicked off a string of four consecutive Fast Six appearances with third in Detroit last year, and has his first Fast Six entry now in 2013 in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda.

“Yeah, it’s really nice to be back in the front,” he said. “Obviously we struggled a little bit with the new tires this year, from the beginning of the year. The team worked a lot to get it back.”

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.”