2016 NHRA season in review: 16-time Funny Car champ John Force

(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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MotorSportsTalk wishes you a Merry Christmas as we continue our season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Through Jan. 4 (we started this series on Dec. 12), we will feature a daily in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five  in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, our Christmas present to you is the 2016 season in review of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force:

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Driver: John Force

Age: 67

Hometown: Yorba Linda, California

Team: John Force Racing

Sponsor/car: Peak Chevrolet Camaro SS

Crew chief: Jon Schaffer

2016 season statistics: Finished 4th in Funny Car; 24 races, 4 wins, 2 runner-up, 3 semifinals, 5 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier zero times. Round-by-round record: 33 wins, 20 losses.

Career statistics: 708 races, 147 wins, 100 runner-up, 113 semifinals, 153 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 154 times. Round-by-round record: 1,263 wins, 543 losses. 18 DNQ. 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion (1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2013).

What went right in 2016: Force earned four wins, most in a season since he won four in 2013, when he captured his 16th and most recent Funny Car championship. … Reached the final round in three of the six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, including wins at Charlotte 2 and Las Vegas (beat daughter Courtney Force in the final round). Lost to Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round of the season finale at Pomona.

What went wrong in 2016: While the ageless Force showed he’s still one of the most successful and toughest drivers to beat on the Funny Car circuit, he was haunted by 10 first-round losses – nearly half of the 24-race season – including three straight (Seattle, Brainerd and Indianapolis), as well as back-to-back first-round losses in the Countdown (Reading and Dallas). Had Force cut down on the number of first-round exits, he had the potential to win a 17th championship.

What to look for in 2017: Force is rumored to be getting the old band back together: although no official announcement has been made yet, he will reportedly have a number of old faces back with John Force Racing in 2017, including crew chiefs John Medlen and Jimmy Prock. That could be just the thing Force needs to get him over the hump and win title No. 17. Force still has hopes of winning 20 championships in his career, and 2017 has the potential to allow him to move one title closer to that ultimate goal.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.”