IndyCar: Sato recovers from pre-race engine change to P4 in Sonoma

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The luck may finally be turning for Takuma Sato and the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda team, as they rebounded post-qualifying in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to a season-best fourth place finish.

Sato qualified 20th, and if that wasn’t bad enough news, the A.J. Foyt Enterprises team had to perform a pre-race engine change in a tighter time period than normal.

With this being a west coast race, the usual 3 to 6 p.m. ET TV window was bumped back to 4 to 7 p.m. ET, but that meant the schedule actually moved forward with race time set from 1 to 4 p.m. PT/local time. With the warm-up from 10 to 10:30, that barely left the No. 14 team enough time to change engines and make pre-grid in their grid position.

Once the race got going Sato was the victim of circumstances, caught up in the Lap 1, Turn 2 melee where Sebastien Bourdais contacted Ryan Briscoe. Sato needed to pit early, but that changed the game.

From there, he excelled on an off-sequence strategy, mirroring prior race leader Mike Conway. He ran in the top five most of the second half of the race. The Japanese driver got his fuel to last to the finish too, and his persistence was rewarded with P4.

Considering the poor run of luck – mostly mechanical issues – that plagued the middle of his season, it was a welcome and timely result.

“Very happy. It was a great effort by the whole ABC Supply team,” Sato said. “We had another unlucky morning–after the warm up we had to change the engine. The guys did a tremendous job to change it in such a short time and give me a competitive car.

“Unfortunately, we caught debris in the first accident and we had to change the nose and tires. We stayed on the lead lap and kept topping off fuel to make a slightly different sequence of pit stops from everyone else.

“Larry and the engineers made good calls on strategy and it worked out really well. The crew did a great job on the stops.

“Unfortunately on the last stop, we were leaving when Marco was coming in [pitted in box ahead of Sato] and I had to stop to avoid hitting him. Nevertheless I overtook a few cars on the track, our strategy worked and the Honda engine did a great job in the end. Everyone is very happy.”

Sato looks for his third top-five of the season (fifth in Toronto race two was his first) to close out the season at Auto Club Speedway next weekend.

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.”