What to watch for: 99th Indianapolis 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – Today’s the day. It’s Indianapolis 500 race day.

Few further words need be said.

Alas, because you’re reading this and I wrote it last night, here’s some things to look for in today’s 99th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

From a purely numerical, percentage standpoint, a winner outside of the Team Penske (four cars), Chip Ganassi Racing (five) and Andretti Autosport (five) camps would be a surprise. Yes, the remaining eight teams have 19 cars, but the established “big three” have 14 of 33 cars – or a staggering 42.42 percent of the field.

But with Bryan Herta Autosport (2011) and KVSH Racing (2013) having won in the last four years, there’s proof it’s not impossible if all the dominos fall correctly.

FIRST-TIME VERSUS REPEAT? YOUTH VERSUS 30-PLUS?

The last two Indianapolis 500 champions have been first-timers in Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The previous four were repeat winners.

Meanwhile there hasn’t been a ‘500 race winner under 30 since Scott Dixon, then 27, in 2008. We touched on the generational divide in a preview piece this week. We’ll see whether it comes to fruition.

SIX-FOR-SIX

It’s easy to forget the Indianapolis 500 is part of the regular Verizon IndyCar Series season, especially given its points value is double any other race save for the season finale, and the prestige of winning makes a career and a lifetime. Alas, we’ve had five winners in as many races to start the year, and a sixth winner would keep the streak of no 2015 repeats alive.

While first- and second-starting Scott Dixon and Will Power have won this year, as has ninth-place starting Josef Newgarden, the remainder of the front third of the field is yet to win in 2015. Hunter-Reay won this race from 19th last year – proof that it can be done even without an excellent starting position.

FUEL WINDOWS

Watch these numbers very carefully: the estimated fuel windows for pit stops. Jon Beekhuis, who will be one of ABC’s three pit reporters on Sunday (and also will serve as an NBCSN pit reporter in the second half of the season), has these numbers outlined:

Thus far it’s looked as though the Hondas will have better fuel mileage, but the more slippery Chevy offsets that edge. Full pit road trips – pit in to pit out, with stops – are estimated to take 39 seconds, just under the time it takes for a full lap.

As ever, you can save fuel under yellow… but yellows might be hard to come by. Last year’s race went the first 149 laps without a yellow.

HYSTERIA VERSUS REALISM

The angst and anxiousness of last week and last Sunday has, in recent days, simmered down.

The weather forecast has improved.

The stands will be packed.

The race is set to go on.

If you were to ask me who I want to win, I’d go full Gone with the Wind on you and reply, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Here’s what I do want: 200 mostly clean laps in the books with no injuries, 33 drivers and crews, and all officials and fans coming home clean as a whistle.

Let’s rock and roll.

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.”