Helio Castroneves’ hopes of climbing up in standings end with wreck at Fontana

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Helio Castroneves’ hope of moving up in the IndyCar point standings came to an early end in Saturday’s MAV TV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Castroneves had led the most laps of any driver when, on Lap 136 of the 250-lap event around the two-mile facility, Castroneves’ left front tire touched the right rear fender well of Ryan Briscoe, sending the Brazilian driver spinning.

Castroneves was running third and closing in on race leader Graham Rahal and No. 2-running Tony Kanaan when it appeared Briscoe moved up slightly in front of Castroneves and their cars made contact.

Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya barely missed being collected by his spinning Team Penske teammate.

Castroneves was the only driver who suffered significant damage, as he went for a spin upon contact and backed his Team Penske ride into the inside retaining wall. His team took the car to the garage to see what repairs could be made and get Castroneves back on the racetrack, 14 laps off the lead lap.

His car was brought back onto pit road on Lap 151, but less than four laps later, Castroneves came back onto pit road and climbed out of his car, his day apparently over for good.

“Unfortunately (Graham) Rahal was coming up on me, and he really squeezed a bit on the top,” Castroneves told NBCSN. “I was in a position so I started lifting, I didn’t want to crash. Dude you don’t need to do that. Then people start chopping, then Will and Briscoe closed it up. Briscoe didn’t need to do that. He turned into me. It was a long ride sideways, but the AAA car was unbelievable.”

Briscoe suffered minor damage and pitted on the following lap to have the rear fender well replaced. He subsequently was brought into the pits after the restart to serve a penalty for making contact with Castroneves.

Castroneves came into the race ranked fourth in the IndyCar driver standings, 52 points behind series leader Juan Pablo Montoya, but just 25 points behind No. 2-ranked Will Power and only seven points behind No. 3-ranked Scott Dixon.

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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.”