Ryan Villopoto leaving American motocross, will race MXGP series for ‘final year of racing’

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Ryan Villopoto is officially headed to Europe – a move that will dramatically impact the landscape of motocross racing series on both sides of the globe.

The most dominant rider of the last few years, Villopoto will leave behind the Monster Energy Kawasaki team in the United States for its European counterpart in an attempt to capture a brand new title in 2015 – the FIM Motocross World Championship.

Next season is also set to serve as a farewell tour for the distinguished veteran. “I am ready for the final chapter of my career, and in my final year of racing I am looking to accomplish something no one else has achieved,” Villopoto was quoted as saying in a press release from Kawasaki. “I’ve never been one to look at the record books so when an opportunity like this comes around, to race against the best in the world and represent the U.S.A., I have to see it through.”

Villopoto won a record-tying fourth straight supercross title back in May but missed the entire Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship after undergoing knee surgery. He’ll close out his racing career in the U.S. with a total of nine national championships, and injuries have been the only thing preventing him from collecting even more titles. With the FIM Motocross World Championship starting in late February, Villopoto will benefit from extra time to make sure his knee is fully recovered.

Reportedly burned out by the intense rigors of the racing schedule in America and the pressure of feeling that anything other than a championship is a failure, going to Europe to race the MXGP series should hopefully allow Villopoto to relax and enjoy racing more than he has been, while also earning him the support of prideful American fans who would love to see one of their countrymen defeat some of the world’s best overseas.

As unbeatable as Villopoto has looked here in the States, racing in Europe will be no cakewalk though. Not only will there be a lot of new tracks to adapt to, the veterans of the MXGP series – such as eight-time champion Antonio Cairoli – have a lot of pride at stake and will have no shortage of motivation to beat the American.

Back in the U.S., Kawasaki will have a big hole to fill in their lineup, with Davi Millsaps and Wil Hahn tapped to replace Villopoto and Jake Weimer on the factory team’s revamped 450 Class roster. Millsaps finished as the runner-up in the supercross championship to Villopoto in both 2012 and 2013, while Hahn has a regional 250 Class supercross title to his credit from 2013.

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.”