Montoya returns to natural IndyCar habitat, back at Barber test

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For the first time in more than 20 years, Juan Pablo Montoya isn’t racing full-time. One of the greatest drivers of his generation is in a transition phase between a full-time seat in the Verizon IndyCar Series and a potential seat with Team Penske’s likely-if-not-officially-confirmed future sports car program.

But Montoya is still staying plenty race-sharp in a year where he’ll compete in a variety of machinery. He won the Race of Champions in January, tested the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at Sebring in February and was back in his natural habitat of a Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar on Tuesday, in preparation for his month of May outing in the team’s fifth car for both IndyCar races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Times don’t mean much for a test day but Montoya was immediately on pace in fourth yesterday at Barber Motorsports Park, working with Team Penske veteran Ron Ruzewski and engineer Raul Prados on the box for his No. 22 Chevrolet, per Trackside Online and IndyCar.com.

This was Montoya’s first day in an IndyCar since he finished third at the 2016 season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in September.

“I feel like I drove the car yesterday,” Montoya said, via an IndyCar release. “It’s kind of fun. I’ve been out of the car since September, but I feel fine. I have a new crew, new guys, new engineer. It’s working really well.”

The shift for Montoya this year comes after his first two seasons in F3000 in 1997 and 1998, the latter of which he won a championship and propelled him into CART in 1999 when he won that year’s title on a tiebreaker over Dario Franchitti. After another year with a few wins in 2000, notably his romp on debut at the Indianapolis 500, he was off to Formula 1 where he raced for five and a half years from 2001 through 2006. His abrupt F1 ending produced the start of his NASCAR career, which stretched from the end of 2006 through 2013 before coming back to IndyCar, where he had been full-time the last three years and probably should have won the 2015 title had he not lost that one on a tiebreaker to Scott Dixon.

Home life is the way forward for Montoya now, who’s overseeing son Sebastian’s burgeoning kart career of his own and racing when he wants to rather than when he has to. And given he’s already back on pace in his first day back in an IndyCar in six months, it should come as no surprise given his ability level.

Seeing the fun side of Montoya has been evident on social media; he and Tony Kanaan both posted a pair of Instagram stories last night as they chronicled their flight delays getting out of Birmingham and back to Florida in the wee hours. And yes, Montoya did make it home before sunrise.

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.”