Detroit Grand Prix a hit for city, business, IndyCar Series

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By both local and national measures, “take two” at the reincarnated Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix was a smashing success. And knowing the propensity of a Penske-led organization to want to improve, plans are already underway for further developments in 2014 at The Raceway on Belle Isle.

The Windsor Star reported a three-day attendance number north of 100,000 with 45,000 of that on Sunday at the 2.35-mile street course. Saturday’s tripleheader of racing – Pirelli World Challenge, GRAND-AM Rolex Series and IndyCar’s first of its twin races – saw an increased crowd number for that day as well.

Attendance numbers may have been higher if not for the early week forecast, that projected rain anywhere from 60 to 90 percent possible for Saturday – nary a drop of rain fell on the second or third day of the weekend.

“Last year, I sat at the bridge apologizing for what had happened (track disintegrated) for an hour,” race chairman and Penske executive Bud Denker told the Star. “No apology necessary this year. I got texts from all over the world asking (if those overhead shots) were really Detroit. We blew it out of the park today.”

Circuit changes already planned for 2014 include a repaving of the backstraight and also to straighten out the bend from Turn 6 into Turn 7, so rather than the jink left before a right, it will be a longer straight that flows into the right-handed turn.

The double-decker corporate suites were packed betweens Turn 8 and 11. Former IndyCar security chief Charles Burns, now the Detroit Grand Prix general manager, explained the importance of having such a strong amount of corporate support.

“It’s expensive, but it adds a special touch when you can build relationships with 75 people on Saturday and perhaps 75 different people on Sunday during IndyCar races,” Burns told the Associated Press.

According to the Detroit Free Press, those suites will move to pit lane next year, replacing the grandstands currently there. Further suites may be built elsewhere to accommodate the corporate demand.

Drivers raved about the track changes, as well, with the revised layout a return to the one CART had from 1998 to 2001. Only Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Alex Tagliani had prior experience on that layout before this weekend.

Denker enjoyed the doubleheader aspect of the weekend and would prefer IndyCar keep it for 2014.

“I’ve already petitioned for that,” Denker told the Detroit Free Press. “I want it because it is good for the fans and our sponsors. This (race) series right now needs to be shaken up a little bit. Doing the same old things is not enough anymore. We have to move the needle on the dial.”

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

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing

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.”