Unpredictability, first-time winners make IndyCar’s 2013 one of the best in years

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Here’s how unpredictable this 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season has been:

You have had four first-time winners – James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball – emerge from the pack and take the next step in their respective careers.

You had a guy in Mike Conway who was basically left for the IndyCar scrap heap after deciding, and bravely I might add, he didn’t want to race ovals anymore. Then he came into the most heavily derided car on the grid (Dale Coyne’s second car) without so much as a test day and kicked ass in Detroit.

And you have the championship rivals of 2010 and 2011 – the champion, Dario Franchitti and the challenger, Will Power – having gone winless thus far in 2013.

What do you make of the nature of this topsy-turvy season where predictions are about as reliable as a weatherman’s in the Midwest?

Is this level of parity, and unpredictability, good for IndyCar or is it a sign where the current car allows drivers who might not be considered top-shelf, top-caliber pilots to punch above their weight?

Those questions I’ll leave for the comments section. But speaking objectively, having followed this series since I grew up following IndyCar in the 1990s and having covered it since 2006, I have to rank this season top three in the last 20 years. And we haven’t even got to the climax of the final few race weekends yet.

The nature of this field – compared to Formula One’s for example – is that you have a legitimate 15 or so contenders on any given weekend, depending on the track. Nine different drivers from seven teams have won in the 14 races. Seventeen different drivers from nine teams have scored at least one podium finish. The ones who haven’t yet have threatened the establishment at at least one race this year.

And for once, to this point at least, you don’t have the political morass or B.S. of off-track attempting to weave its way in and interrupt the on-track product. Way too often, it seems the permeating stench of politics and agendas seeps into the paddock, leaving media, competitors and fans disgruntled.

When the worst things off-track are questions over aero kits and changing the engine formula to just twin-turbos, rather than the usual leadership tumult at the top, it’s not a bad year. There remain challenges going forward, as always, but the on-track product has quieted the angst for most of the year.

I tweeted after the Indianapolis 500 that when Tony Kanaan won, on a day he was reunited with three of his best friends, Franchitti, Max Papis and the incomparable Alex Zanardi in Victory Lane, that it felt like 1998 all over again.

These are the new glory days in IndyCar. Enjoy the ride.

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.”