Villeneuve hails Alonso’s Indy 500 entry as ‘amazing’

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Jacques Villeneuve has called two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso’s decision to enter the 101st Indianapolis 500 “amazing”, but doubts he stands much chance of winning on debut.

Alonso shocked the motorsport world last week by announcing that he would miss the Monaco Grand Prix in May so he could enter the Indy 500 as part of a joint effort between McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

The news has divided opinion in racing circles, but 1995 Indy 500 winner Villeneuve was delighted by it, himself having also raced in both F1 and Indy cars before.

“He will go for it, and that’s what’s great. That’s what makes it exciting. It’s typical gladiators and that’s what built the sport, made it what it is today,” Villeneuve told Reuters.

“So it’s good that there’s someone going back to its roots like this, it’s amazing.” Villeneuve did, however, add that Alonso’s chances of a rookie victory were “tiny”.

Villeneuve is one of just a handful of drivers in racing history to attempt all three races that make up motorsport’s ‘Triple Crown’: the Indy 500 (1994, 1995, 2014), the Monaco Grand Prix (1996-2006) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2007, 2008).

In his bid to become one of the greatest drivers of all-time, Alonso has set his sights on winning the Triple Crown, and Villeneuve is disappointed that more F1 drivers are not similarly-driven.

“What I find disappointing is how many drivers say ‘why bother, it’s only an oval race, it’s dangerous, why would I race there?’ Well, you’re a racer,” Villeneuve said.

“If you are a pure race fan and are passionate and a racer at heart, you have to be interested in Le Mans and Indy 500 as well as F1. It’s the three main things in racing.

“For drivers, it was always important. I finished second in Le Mans which is a shame, that really kills me. That hurts.”

Despite entering all three races, Villeneuve has completed just one leg of the Triple Crown – his Indy win in 1995 – with his best Monaco finish being P4 in 2001 with BAR.

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

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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.”