Change Racing worked overtime to get second car prepped for Sebring

Photo: Tony DiZinno

SEBRING, Fla. – Robby Benton’s Change Racing team was already learning a lot at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, when the Charlotte-based team made its debut in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Benton had primarily been in NASCAR but the WeatherTech debut – also Lamborghini’s debut in the series – threw everything but the kitchen sink at them.

A snap failure in practice sent Spencer Pumpelly into the inside retaining wall off NASCAR Turn 4 and meant the crew would be working tirelessly to get its No. 16 Monster Energy/Pertamina Lamborghini Huracán GT3 back to working condition. There was also an assist from the Lamborghini Squadra Corse crew; a collective across-the-board effort occurred to get the car running.

But in the race, despite Pumpelly’s co-driver Corey Lewis getting a rocket start from the back of the field and with the car showing undoubted pace, the car sustained a heavy accident with another Lamborghini when battling for the lead. Justin Marks was in the Change car and collided with Bryce Miller.

So upon heading to the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, naturally, things have gotten even crazier for one of the Lamborghini teams as it’s made a last-minute expansion to a second Huracán GT3 in the GT Daytona class.

Change’s primary No. 16 Huracán saw the full-season pairing of Pumpelly and Lewis continue, but with Al Carter – one of last year’s Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup champions in GTD with Cameron Lawrence – added as third driver. Neither Marks nor Kaz Grala continue this weekend.

But meanwhile, what had been the No. 11 Huracán under the O’Gara Motorsport umbrella has joined the Change fold, after some unexpected and reportedly serious business issues meant the O’Gara Motorsport team disappeared after just one race. Electrical issues blighted what was a potential top-three run there for that car, although the team made up 12 laps after losing 24 early on.

Lamborghini and Change came to an agreement for the car to continue, with a mix of crew moving over to support the effort. Some of the O’Gara crew was not able to continue, though.

“Tom O’Gara is a close friend and I’m happy he turned to us to continue what he started. It took a tremendous amount of effort and planning for us to prepare and be ready for the move up to IMSA WeatherTech with our own team, but a lot of that work actually put us in a good position to be able to grow to a two-car team like this,” Benton said in a team release.

Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler have pressed on switching into the new team, with the same car and a new white-and-black livery with Robert Graham signage. Robert Graham has supported Bell’s Indianapolis 500 efforts the last few years.

It’s not been the easiest weekend, though, at Sebring. With the No. 11 car arriving from O’Gara having not been fully stripped or prepared, as the No. 16 car had been after Daytona, Change was working overtime to get the No. 11 car up and running. Alas, a fuel leak prevented the No. 11 car from running the first session.

“We had a fuel leak. It’s one of those things (that happens) with things coming together quickly,” Bell told IMSA Radio on Thursday. “We had to take some time to fix it. It’s got lots of little things… we’re in a session.

“The Change guys have done an amazing job to get here and prepared. We’re lucky to be on track, but there’s a lot to get through.”

Bell and Sweedler continue with Richard Antinucci and by this morning’s fourth practice session, the team was up to seventh in class at a 2:02.585 best lap.

For all three drivers, they entered this morning’s session with more confidence than they had at any other point during the weekend with some of the issues on Thursday now sorted.

For Bell and Sweedler, it’s a fascinating scenario they’d been through before in 2014.

They’d switched from the Level 5 Motorsports team to AIM Autosport once Level 5 ended its program, also between Daytona and Sebring.

Bell and Sweedler are the defending GTD class champions with Scuderia Corsa; Antinucci won the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America title last year with O’Gara.

Bell summarized the thrash in that IMSA Radio interview: “It’s been head down to just make this happen. We haven’t had a chance to breathe.”

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.”