Colton Herta blasts Rahal teams after contact with Scott McLaughlin in Indy 500 practice

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INDIANAPOLIS — Andretti Autosport driver Colton Herta was angry with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing after he narrowly averted a heavy crash during the opening minutes of Indy 500 practice Thursday.

About five hours later, IndyCar officials penalized Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing by benching its cars for the first 30 minutes of the critical “Fast Friday” practice that sets up qualifying.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway had been green Thursday for only a moment at the noon start of a six-hour practice when the yellow flag flew after Herta’s No. 26 Dallara-Honda made light contact with Team Penske rookie Scott McLaughlin’s much slower No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet while squeezing around the outside of Turn 4. Herta’s car also scraped the outside wall with its right side.

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Herta was forced to the outside because Simona De Silvestro and McLaughlin occupied the inside two lanes and were under braking because the RLL Racing trio of Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato and Santino Ferrucci had slowed for an apparent photo opportunity at the Yard of Bricks finish line.

“It turns out going three-wide for a photo op during IndyCar practice isn’t an ideal situation,” Herta told IndyCar Radio after viewing replays of the incident. “They’re going 100 mph on the front straight while guys are running 220. Whoever is in charge of that at Rahal is a complete idiot and just risking everybody’s life out there for the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.

“Luckily, we got away with it easy. The car should be OK. I just pancaked the wall lightly and luckily wasn’t able to take out Scott. We’ll make sure the car is OK. I’m not mad at Scott and Simona. It’s those Rahal guys that completely ruined everything. It’s crazy.”

It was the beginning of an eventful day for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as Ferrucci sustained a minor injury to his left leg in a crash about four hours later.

Asked by NBC Sports for comment about the contact been Herta and McLaughlin, IndyCar officials said they were evaluating and reviewing the incident. During the Peacock broadcast, IndyCar official Kevin Blanch was shown on camera telling Penske team members in McLaughlin’s pit that the series apparently was unaware of the RLL photo.

NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee reported late Thursday afternoon that IndyCar would penalize the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers for “improper conduct” by holding them off track the first 30 minutes of the “Fast Friday” practice (which will mark the debut of the turbo boost that teams are permitted for qualifying).

IndyCar vice president of communications Dave First later confirmed the penalty.

Herta called the punishment “appropriate” and suggested IndyCar might consider allotting time to schedule future photos.

“I understand what they were trying to do,” said Herta, who voiced his displeasure directly to the Rahal team. “It probably just wasn’t the right place and time. Hopefully, we learn from it, and I’m ready to focus on (Friday).”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Bob Rahal wasn’t pleased with the penalty, telling the Associated Press that “we’re going to miss 30 minutes of practice, you mean for what Roger did the day before, or Roger’s team I should say? That’s disappointing.”

Team Penske, which is owned by Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar owner Roger Penske, had posed its cars for a similar four-abreast photo during the installation laps of Tuesday’s opening practice.

During the Peackcock coverage of practice, IndyCar steward Max Papis told NBC Sports announcer Leigh Diffey that the incident shouldn’t have happened.

After some minor repairs, Herta was back on track about an hour later.

“The most important thing is this is our main car,” Herta said. “It’s the car we’ve prepped for Indy. It’s our fast car. And it didn’t get hurt too bad.”

During an interview with NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch, Herta initially seemed angry with McLaughlin and De Silvestro because “I’m coming around the corner doing 220, and these idiots are doing 170. I don’t know what the hell their goal was there. I’m just glad we were able to keep the car in a little bit of one piece. Just baffles me that they’re going side by side at 170 mph taking up the whole track. It’s crazy.”

Colton Herta makes light contact with the Turn 4 wall while squeezing past Scott McLaughlin, who was slowing to avoid the three Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars side by side ahead of him (Peacock).

But after a cordial chat between the drivers in pit lane, Colton Herta gave McLaughin a pat on the shoulder. Bryan Herta, Colton’s father and strategist, also had a friendly conversation with John Bouslog, McLaughlin’s strategist at Penske.

“I think the Rahal dudes were trying to get a nice little photo there,” McLaughlin told Welch in an interview. “Colton came really quick, was coming fast, and I just checked up in front of him. It’s hard to check up around here. Just had no idea. Apologized to him, he apologized back to me, so a bit of a 50-50 thing.

“I really don’t know what exactly happened. It was the first lap of the morning, and I was just trying to get around and do some pit stop practice. At least the car is very fast. Chevy fast all week. Just a little bit of miscommunication between everyone.”

McLaughlin’s said the fright front of his car wasn’t damaged in the incident. Colton Herta said he had no choice but to put the right side of his car against the wall.

“It happened so fast, I didn’t think I could get to the left,” Herta said. “I saw a little bit of a lane and was hoping Scott’s spotter would tell him, and he did right at the last second. He probably moved over half a car length, and it was just enough for me to scrape by against the wall and bobble between him and the wall.”

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.”