Packed 450 Supercross Rookie class offers compelling storylines for 2021

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Every year freshmen infuse fresh blood into the series, but the 2021 Supercross rookie class may well be the most competitive in recent history. The season kicks off Saturday, Jan. 16 at NRG Stadium.

Featuring the last four 250 SX champions, Chase Sexton and Dylan Ferrandis will provide one of the most compelling races within the race each week. Shane McElrath and Brandon Hartranft believe they also have a chance to be one of the top Cinderella stories several times in 2021.

Sexton enters the 450 SX season as the two-time reigning 250 East champion. Ferrandis has won the last two 250 West titles.

They each enter as 2021 Supercross rookies with a ton of aggression and six career wins apiece.

“It’s hard to set real expectations because this is a new class for me,” Sexton said in the preseason press conference before Sat. 16th’s opening round in Houston.

But the expectations that exist for Sexton, who rides for Team Honda HRC, are massive. “I feel like I have the potential to win races and be on the podium. Being consistent and being in the top five a lot is kind of the goal.”

Ferrandis’ goals are no less lofty, but perhaps more realistic. Coming back from an offseason injury that limited his time on the bike, he climbs aboard the Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha and knows that he needs to assess his goals on an ongoing basis.

“I have spent a lot of time on the bike in the last 15 days in different conditions,” Ferrandis said. “It’s part of the job. It’s going to be a big challenge to be good in Houston, but the season is long and we’ll have to take it race by race.

“New class. New goal, new everything. It’s kind of a big reset. Forget what happened in the past. I am going to be where I always wanted to be.

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McElrath is also recovering from an injury. And it is uncertain if he will even be able to ride in the opening round.

With nine to his credit, McElrath has more 250 SX wins than either of the former champions.

“We’re still doing everything we can,” said McElrath, rider of the Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcepts Honda. “My doctor told me to let pain be my guide. I can deal with some pain, but without much strength that’s kind of the hard part.

“I’m going to be at the first round. We’re going to wait and see how I feel there and if I can do something. We’re going to be out there as soon as we can, whether that’s the first Houston round or later.”

McElrath does not have a championship to his credit, but he has finished in the runner-up position three times: in 250 West in 2015 and 2017. Last year, he finished second to Sexton in 250 East.

Meanwhile Hartranft is moving up early with only three 250 SX seasons under his belt. While he does not have a top-three finish in the standings, he has gotten progressively stronger every year with an eighth in 250 East in 2018, a sixth in that division in 2016 and a fourth last year in 250 West.

“It’s earlier than I expected, but I gel with the 450s well since I was like 16,” Hartranft said. “I’ve always been a bigger kid. I’ve only had two months on the bike, but after a few days I was right at home.

“This year the whole class is stacked from first to 20th. It takes some weight off my shoulders. I’m going to go in there and do the best I can. After the first round, we figure out where we are and go from there.”

Dylan Ferrandis (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)

  • West Champion 2019 and 2020
  • 6 250 SX Wins
  • First Win: Seattle, March 23, 2019
  • Most Recent Win:  San Diego, Feb. 8, 2020

Chase Sexton (Team Honda HRC)

  • East Champion 2019 and 2020
  • Ran the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season
  • 6 250 SX wins
  • First Win: East Rutherford, April 27, 2019
  • Most Recent: Salt Lake City, June 21, 2020

Shane McElrath (Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcepts Honda)

  • East Runner-up 2020; West Runner-up 2017 and 2015
  • 9 250 SX Wins
  • First Win: Anaheim 1, Jan. 7, 2017
  • Most Recent Win: Salt Lake City, June 7, 2020

Brandon Hartranft (HEP Motorsports Suzuki)

  • Fourth, West 2020
  • Best Finish of third: St. Louis, Jan. 11, 2020 and Anaheim 2, Jan. 18, 2020

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.”