IndyCar drivers come up a bit short in bid to become an American Ninja Warrior

(Photo courtesy NBC)
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Helio Castroneves was light enough on his feet to win Dancing With The Stars in 2007.

Nearly a decade later, and as a contestant on American Ninja Warrior – which aired Monday night on NBC – Castroneves didn’t reach the finish line, but he certainly gave it a good try.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was joined on a special edition of ANW by fellow Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden, as well as NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The episode was taped in Indianapolis for the first time ever in the last week of April. The 41-year-old Castroneves reached the third stage of the challenging obstacle course before being eliminated.

“Wow, let me tell you, I had a great time,” Castroneves said. “I wish I had done it again – or maybe not. It was a lot of fun and very, very difficult. I was so worried about the first and second obstacles that I didn’t (think so much) about the third.

“I couldn’t go more than the third stage, but let me tell you, I had a blast.”

 

Newgarden also reached the third stage before seeing his evening end short.

“Just getting to do something like this was incredible,” Newgarden said. “It was one of those once in a lifetime deals. Personally, I’d like to come back. I didn’t feel like I did good enough. I tried really hard, I was happy to get to where Helio got but I just lost my momentum and really didn’t know what to when I got up there.”

Newgarden, who is recovering from injuries sustained in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, was in fine form when the episode was taped. But he also illustrated that race car drivers truly are athletes.

“I hope we showed some of our athleticism,” Newgarden said. “This is obviously a very different sport. The discussion is always athleticism and fitness in racing, is that a thing? For us, it very much is.

“It’s a big fitness sport and you really have to be very prepared mentally and physically to drive an Indy car, but that doesn’t mean we can be football wide receivers. Just because we’re trained well and can drive Indy cars great doesn’t mean we’re Ninja’s. I thought we did alright in representing and showing we had some athleticism.

“This was such a cool opportunity. When do you get a chance to do American Ninja Warriors and complete the course? Personally, I want to come back and really want to try it again with a little more training specific to these type of obstacles.”

Kanaan and Stenhouse both made it to the second stage.

“It’s one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve ever had,” Kanaan said. “It was the unknown, something that I’m not used to. I was definitely more nervous than any of the Indy 500 starts I’ve ever done. It was a great experience.

“Obviously, we’re privileged because of what we do, we get to do some cool things like this. But I definitely found out I’m not a Ninja today. It’s going to be hard to tell my kid that.”

Click on the following links for more highlights from Monday’s episode:

American Ninja Warrior

Helio Castroneves qualifying

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualifying

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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
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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.”