IndyCar iRacing Challenge entry list for Saturday at Twin Ring Motegi

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Kyle Busch, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato will make their IndyCar iRacing Challenge debuts at virtual Twin Ring Motegi’s 1.5-mile oval.

Busch, who won his second NASCAR Cup championship in 2019, Castroneves and Sato were among the highlights of the entry list released Thursday morning by IndyCar for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. ET race, which will be broadcast on NBCSN.

After appearances by Jimmie Johnson in the first two races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. last week in a third-place debut at Michigan International Speedway, Busch will be the major representative this week from NASCAR in a No. 51 Dallara.

ENTRY LIST: Click here to see the 33 drivers entered in the Japan race

CHAMP IS HERE: Kyle Busch will make his virtual IndyCar debut in Japan

The field will feature a series-high 33 drivers, up from 31 last week at Michigan International Speedway.

Here’s the IndyCar release on the fourth round of the six-race iRacing Challenge:

INDIANAPOLIS (April 16, 2020) – As the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge leaves the United States for the first time Saturday, April 18, three fan favorites of American motorsports who are new to the virtual racing series are coming along for the ride. 

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, 2017 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Takuma Sato and two-time reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch will make their respective series debuts in the Firestone 175 on the 1.549-mile oval at Twin Ring Motegi in Motegi, Japan.

The fourth of six rounds in the series featuring NTT INDYCAR SERIES stars and special guest drivers will be the second straight event on an oval, with a series-high field of 33 drivers ready to race for 113 laps on the tricky, asymmetrical oval that hosted INDYCAR races from 1998-2011. The race starts at 2:30 p.m. ET, with live coverage on NBCSN. 

Castroneves joins the series in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet with a certain distinction besides having his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy three times, more than any other driver in the field. He is one of three drivers in the Firestone 175 who has won at Twin Ring Motegi in NTT INDYCAR SERIES competition, capturing victories there in 2006 and 2010 for Team Penske.

Other Motegi race winners competing Saturday are Scott Dixon in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (2009 and 2011 Motegi winner) and Tony Kanaan in the No. 14 7-Eleven Chevrolet (2007 Motegi winner).

2017 “500” winner Sato will make his INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debut in the No. 30 Panasonic/Keihin Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. While this is Sato’s first race in this series, he knows Twin Ring Motegi well. Japanese native Sato has two career NTT INDYCAR SERIES starts at the track, in 2010 and 2011, and he also has visited the actual circuit for the annual Honda Thanks Day every year since his 2017 Indy victory.

The addition of Castroneves and Sato increases the number of Indianapolis 500 winners in the Firestone 175 field to eight, along with Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Alexander Rossi.

Two-time Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard winner Busch is the latest NASCAR star to join the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. He will drive the No. 51 Rowdy Energy Dallara as the lone NASCAR representative at Motegi in his INDYCAR debut, virtual or real.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson raced in the first two rounds, on March 28 at Watkins Glen International and April 4 at Barber Motorsports Park. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third April 11 in the first oval race of the series, at Michigan International Speedway.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Rinus VeeKay is the fourth newcomer to the series in the Motegi field. He will drive the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing.

All newcomers – and most of the rest of the field – will have their eyes on the Team Penske trio of Scott McLaughlin, Power and Pagenaud.

Two-time and reigning Virgin Australia Supercars champion McLaughlin, from New Zealand, has the best overall record in the series in the No. 2 Shell V-Power Team Penske Dallara, finishing fourth at Watkins Glen, winning at Barber and placing second at Michigan. Veteran sim racer McLaughlin has produced this impressive record despite competing in series races during the middle of the night in Australia, where he lives.

2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Power is just behind McLaughlin in terms of strike rate. Another experienced sim racer, he has finished third at Watkins Glen, second at Barber and fourth at Michigan in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and is aiming to become the third Penske driver to win in this series.

2016 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and reigning Indy 500 winner Pagenaud was the latest Team Penske driver to take the checkered flag, using patience and deft fuel strategy to win last Saturday, April 11 at Michigan in the No. 22 DXC Team Penske Chevrolet. The victory marked the pinnacle of a climb of steady improvement for the Frenchman, as he finished sixth at Watkins Glen and fifth at Barber.

While recent results may not indicate it, INDYCAR and Indianapolis 500 veteran Sage Karam must be considered another favorite for victory at Motegi.

Vastly experienced and successful iRacing competitor Karam is the only driver to lead laps in all three races of this virtual series, also winning the opener at Watkins Glen in the No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet. He also has led the most laps in all three races, pacing a dominant 116 of the 175 combined laps so far (66 percent).

Karam finished 27th at Barber after a collision while dueling with position with Felix Rosenqvist’s No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda midway through the race, and he ended up 14th at Michigan due to a spin in traffic while climbing back toward the front after an early pit stop. 

Threading the needle in traffic will be a primary concern for all contenders, as thickets of cars should form in the big field on an oval approximately a half-mile shorter than last week’s thrilling race at Michigan. The fuel window is expected to be approximately 40 laps, creating a two-stop race that will add plenty of strategic options.

The starting lineup will be set through a 10-minute qualifying session prior to the event.

Two races remain in the six-round series after Saturday, the Circuit of the Americas on April 25 and a non-INDYCAR “Dream” track May 2. he INDYCAR iRacing Challenge will not crown an overall champion but will add a special element where INDYCAR will make a donation to one of its partner charities.

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.”