Aleshin on IndyCar: “I can’t wait to get back”

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Few drivers were exciting to watch as Mikhail Aleshin in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, with the Russian’s speed, bravery and bravado showing through at a number of events.

Aleshin didn’t get a chance to end his rookie season as planned though, with a devastating accident at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. in night practice.

He came back proving he’d lost none of the attributes he had on his scorecard in the 2015 season finale at Sonoma, in a third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry. He out-qualified teammates Ryan Briscoe and James Jakes and finished 10th in the team’s No. 77 SMP Racing Dallara-Honda.

As Aleshin explained, the return to IndyCar – particularly ovals – is something he’s quite excited for.

“It all depends on your feeling about the series, about the team and about your place in the world, I would say,” Aleshin told MotorSportsTalk at this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 test, where he’s co-driving the No. 37 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR01 Nissan.

“I really enjoyed this particular team and felt myself like I was back home. And from the physical and mental side, the work on the prototype we did all season, that helped me a lot. I learned a lot as well there.

“For me, I didn’t have any real issues to get back and be in the top-10 in IndyCar. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but it was not harder than when I did it the first year, for sure.”

Aleshin’s bravado shown through most on the ovals in the No. 7 car. With Fontana his last oval memory prior to now Phoenix, which will be the first oval race in 2016, Aleshin is keen to recapture the spark.

“I don’t know why, but I like ovals even more than other tracks, for some reason,” he said. “Here (Daytona), you can’t call it an oval, I mean the configuration that we’re using here at Daytona, but still you take some parts of the oval and it’s a pretty nice feeling, I’ll tell you. I can’t wait to get back.”

He’s had one test already with James Hinchcliffe at Sebring, and the two have gelled well.

“We had a test in Sebring together. He’s a nice guy and I think he’s a good worker. He seems like an open guy and I’m sure we’re going to have some fun times this season,” he said.

Aleshin will share the SMP Racing BR01 Nissan at Daytona with Kirill Ladygin, Nicolas Minassian and Maurizio Mediani for the Rolex 24 at Daytona itself.

The car is a dark horse entry for the overall win, and Aleshin returns to the race for the first time since 2014, when he finished fourth in GT Daytona in an SMP Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.

Aleshin could also do the 24 Hours of Le Mans again, as it does not conflict with IndyCar’s schedule. However, he said that remains to be seen whether he’ll slot in somewhere within SMP’s sports car program.

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.”