Vinales heads up Yamaha MotoGP front-row sweep at Le Mans

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Maverick Viñales’ impressive start to life with Yamaha in MotoGP continued on Saturday as he swept to pole position for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe.

Viñales stepped up to a factory seat with Yamaha for 2017 after three-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Ducati, and made a splash by winning his first two races for the team.

Viñales arrived at Le Mans trailing teammate Valentino Rossi by two points at the top of the riders’ championship, and took a step towards overhauling the Italian racing icon by taking pole position on Saturday.

The Spanish rider outqualified Rossi by just one-tenth of a second in the final stage of Q2, with Johann Zarco taking P3 for Tech3, Yamaha’s satellite team, giving the Italian manufacturer a front-row lock-out.

Cal Crutchlow led Honda’s charge in fourth place, beating factory rider Marc Marquez in P5. Andrea Dovizioso took sixth for Ducati, having made it through Q1 at the expense of a number of big names.

Marquez’s teammate, Dani Pedrosa, fell by the wayside in Q1, leaving him 13th on the grid. Lorenzo’s early struggles with Ducati continued as he too dropped out, finishing a lowly 16th.

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.”