IndyCar drivers get used to ‘flat’ NOLA road course


The Verizon IndyCar Series and its drivers don’t have a history of racing in Louisiana, but then again, neither do many other championships.

The last major auto racing event held in the state was an IMSA GT race in downtown New Orleans back in 1995.

That changes this weekend with the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Much of the 24-car field’s experience at the 13-turn, 2.74-mile road course came from testing sessions held earlier in the year.

A common observation by drivers is that their view of action from their cockpit is radically different from the other race courses on the schedule.

“New Orleans is tricky because it’s a very flat track, so there aren’t a lot of reference markers for the drivers,” said Graham Rahal in a release. “When we normally race, you see a certain marker, spot on the ground or, at times, a shadow you know you have to brake right at that point. The NOLA track is very flat so it’s hard to have any of that.

“It’s a track that’s very demanding and it’s very important to get the maximum out of the car. It seems to be one of the most difficult tracks to put a lap time together completely and get the best out of yourself and every corner.”

This was backed up by Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves.

“There is a lack of elevation changes,” Castroneves said. “But it means that the fans can see the entire track from the stands. Every racetrack has its own characteristics and NOLA is no exception, but with two tests there under our belt we should have a lot of it figured out.”

Another common sentiment is that NOLA Motorsports Park is similar to the road course used for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, a circuit first raced on by IndyCar last year.

“Everyone says it feels like the Indy road course,” observed AJ Foyt Enterprises’ Takuma Sato. “That’s because the track is very flat and has a couple of high-speed chicanes. To me, there are some bumpy, tricky corners which remind me a little bit of Edmonton’s airport circuit.”

The similarity to the Indy road course could play to the advantage of Sato’s teammate, Jack Hawksworth. The Britain native was a rookie last year when he started second in that race and led 31 laps before winding up seventh.

“NOLA reminds me of a slightly quicker version of the IMS road course,” Hawksworth said. “It’s very flat with a couple of quick corners and some long straights with big braking zones. Hopefully this should open up a lot of overtaking opportunities in the race.”

Hawksworth also likes that all of the teams competing this weekend have the same amount of information on the track IndyCar has never raced on before.

He said it’ll make for an interesting race.

“I really enjoy going to new circuits,” Hawksworth said. “It’s always exciting to see which teams and drivers can understand the circuit quickly with the limited track time we get over the course of a race weekend. The strategy is always very interesting as well due to the fact we have no previous race data to call on.”

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.”