Andretti Autosport continuing to move upward in IndyCar

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The 1-2 finish by Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti in the first of the two Belle Isle weekend races two weeks ago was the high point for Andretti Autosport thus far in 2015.

But Saturday night’s 5-6 finish by Andretti and Munoz in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway may be a bit more representative of where the team will continue to build in the second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The third-generation Andretti has been on a roll for his grandfather and father’s team of late. Marco has earned three top-fives in the last three races: second at Belle Isle #1, fifth in Belle Isle #2 and fifth Saturday at Texas.

Those were the first top fives of the season for Marco Andretti, who also has four other top 10s in 2015. As a result, he’s climbed to sixth in the point standings (93 points behind series leader Juan Pablo Montoya) and is sporting an average finish of 8.3 per race.

“We were sort of just hanging on to it tonight,” Andretti said after Saturday’s race. “Seemingly lacking a bit of grip and pace to the front runners, so we had to get the top five the way we did it. It was an awesome job by my Snapple guys. We just need to keep hanging in there, that’s all we can do.”

Munoz, currently 12th in the standings (140 points behind Montoya) has Andretti Autosport’s only win of the season (Belle Isle #1). By finishing sixth at Texas, he now has four top 10 (including his win) finishes in the first nine races and has improved his per-race finishing average to 11.6.

“I think I gave 100 percent, everything I could,” said Munoz, who consistently hung in the top seven of Saturday’s race. “We finished sixth – a great position, and I think I did quite good with our stops and pushing hard. It was good for experience, another top 10, and now we’re looking forward to Toronto (Honda Indy Toronto on June 14).”

But as good as Andretti and Munoz have fared of late, teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay has been somewhat of an enigma.

After finishing sixth in the IndyCar standings last season, the 2012 IndyCar Series champ has struggled for much of 2015.

He left Texas 13th in the standings (165 points behind Montoya) and has just one top-five (fifth at Birmingham) and two other top 10 finishes (St. Petersburg and Belle Isle #2).

Not surprisingly, his average per-race finish is 12.1, including finishing a disappointing 18th at Texas due to ongoing handling issues throughout the race.

“Unfortunately, I think there’s something wrong with this car – it’s the same one we had at (Indianapolis) – and we’re going to ‘kitchen sink it’ as they call it, for the next oval race,” Hunter-Reay said Saturday. “We’re just going to come back with a different tub, a different everything because it’s not this difficult.

“There’s no excuse for this. … I’m just glad I brought it back in one piece – it was loose the whole night no matter what we did to it. Meanwhile, my teammates (Andretti and Muñoz) were adding front wing the whole night trying to get the front to grip up.”

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.”