What to watch for: IndyCar at St. Petersburg (12:30 p.m. ET)

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Verizon IndyCar Series opens its 2016 season with a number of interesting story lines, with the most interesting one actually developing Sunday morning regarding Will Power’s status.

Here’s what to watch for from the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC, with 12:52 p.m. green flag):

POWER OUTAGE

Will Power set another track record and scored his sixth pole position at St. Petersburg in the last seven years. Yet he will not be able to start due to nausea diagnosed during the weekend.

Oriol Servia filled in in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in warmup and was brought in on standby for the race, and just got confirmed.

Since he starts, he has experience in these type last-minute situations before. In one of his most memorable drives, he went from 14th on the grid up to second driving for Gerry Forsythe’s team in an injury fill-in role for Paul Tracy at the 2007 Champ Car World Series race at Long Beach.

SIX FOR SIX?

The last five years dating to 2011 have seen five different winners at St. Petersburg (Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Power and Juan Pablo Montoya). Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay are the three Firestone Fast Six qualifiers absent of a St. Petersburg win who could get their first today.

A FOYT SURPRISE?

Arguably the surprise of a weekend from a pace standpoint has been A.J. Foyt Enterprises, which has clicked with both Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth in the Nos. 14 and 41 ABC Supply Co. Hondas. Both drivers traditionally overachieve at the circuit and look for solid top-fives or so here.

HINCH, MIKHAIL AND THE ROOKIES

Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin make their series returns and there’s also a quartet of rookies – Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton and Spencer Pigot – making their first St. Petersburg starts. Daly has several career starts while the latter three make their series debuts.

PIT STRATEGY

This is a three-stop race with roughly 17 or 18 laps of a window per pit stop cycle. The window opens as early as Lap 14 and runs through Lap 31 for the first cycle.

Honda tended to have an edge on Chevrolet on fuel mileage throughout 2015 and it will be interesting to see whether Chevrolet has closed the gap this season.

TURN 1, THEN TURN 4

The race can’t be won on the opening lap but it certainly can be lost that way. Both Turns 1 and 4 are trouble spots, with Turn 1 serving as the more traditional problem child.

OFFICIAL STARTING GRID

STPgrid

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.”