Checking in with Alex Lloyd: Can IndyCar grow beyond its bubble?

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Being disconnected from the day-to-day world of IndyCar can be a positive, as Beepi head of content and past IndyCar driver Alex Lloyd related to me when we touched base last week while Lloyd was at the New York International Auto Show.

For Lloyd, who’s in a healthier and more stable post-full-time driving career now in the automotive journalism industry, he wonders how IndyCar can grow beyond its bubble to continue its recent upward trajectory of better – if not hugely better – TV ratings the last few years.

“It’s a weird one, isn’t it?” Lloyd told NBC Sports. “Because when I was in the ‘IndyCar bubble,’ you see it with rose-tinted glasses. You’re going along with the in-house media stuff.

“From an IndyCar perspective, when I walked away and did other bits around it, I started to realize there’s a ton of bitterness there. We know it’s not there on a mainstream level. You do notice outside the core fan base that it’s struggling to resonate. Some things have come in – aero kits for instance – designed to make it go further.

“The product’s still good. It’s hard to say the racing isn’t good. The fan base is just so different. The core people are always still there, watching. It’s the others, really, I’m most concerned about, because for the younger people, motorsports isn’t on the radar as much.”

Lloyd, in one of his last columns for Yahoo Autos, penned a piece called “IndyCar is broken, here’s how to fix it” and it presents Chris Beatty’s wingless concept car, with a canopy, more power and less downforce – as seems to be the de rigueur option preferred by some drivers.

With IndyCar having evolved at a more gradual pace the last 20 to 25 years or so, rather than the more drastic year-to-year advances from the 1960s into the 1970s, Lloyd is of the belief a radical change could spur greater interest.

“You have to do something quite radical, and take a big stab, and get (a younger) audience age,” Lloyd said. “Maybe it’s massive horsepower and zero downforce? You’d completely change the way it works. Technology, virtual reality, is becoming more of a thing and I think there’s some potential.

“From an IndyCar perspective – we need to do something. We’ve got excited about little bits of growth thus far. But people don’t care outside the racing bubble, and outside of them it seems one knows what the sport is anymore. A drastic or radical change could upset the core… but you have to try.”

Lloyd also reiterated his disagreement with pack racing and wants to see the cars more spread out in the future. Realistically, the only race that fell into that domain last year was at Auto Club Speedway, and that was primarily due to the temperature not being as hot as projected.

“For those of us who were around in 2011, the Vegas race is still quite raw. Honestly I think for everyone involved, from media, fan or driver perspectives, and in those conversations afterwards… you can’t forget what a lot of us went through then and what we swore we’d never do again.

“Close racing is very exciting to watch. But it starts creeping back to pack racing if something as simple as the temperature being slightly different or the slightest downforce change comes into play.

“There’s always been the fear for me something that bad might happen again. The catch fences are still as bad as they are. The new car is supposed to be safer; however you still saw the new ones tend to fly up and go airborne.

“We’ve had plenty of close calls with open cockpit cars being dangerous. Whether it’s Helio (Castroneves), with a tire bouncing across the track, or a driveshaft coming near (James) Jakes, there’s been a lot of close calls.

“And that was the big frustrating thing about 2011 for me. I wasn’t in a competitive car on ovals that season, yet I was risking life and limb with basically no one caring or watching.

“If crowds turn up in the masses, for the good of sport, we take some more chances. But if TV numbers aren’t that much bigger, and there’s no sizable gain, why are we doing it? If it’s not making any tangible gains, why keep doing it?”

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.”