Helio Castroneves’ IndyCar schedule will remain part time for 2021 after Indy 500 victory

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Helio Castroneves had hoped his fourth Indy 500 victory would lead to a seat this weekend at the NTT IndyCar Series doubleheader in Detroit and perhaps even a full schedule.

He asked many times over but Meyer Shank Racing held to its original plan.

The team said Monday it will field just its usual one car with Jack Harvey in the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader, as well as its sports car in the IMSA race. The team has a six-race plan with Castroneves that launched at the Indy 500 and delivered MSR its first IndyCar victory.

Castroneves will instead make his debut Saturday night in Tony Stewart’s All-Star Superstar Racing Experience at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut as previously scheduled. His next scheduled IndyCar race is at Nashville in August. He also is scheduled to drive for MSR on the Indianapolis road course, as well as at Portland, Laguna Seca and the season finale at Long Beach.

“Heck yeah I wanted to go to Detroit. It’s a dear place in my heart but I understand. I can only push, you know?” said Castroneves, who has been lobbied since the deal was announced for more races. “I think I do have a little bit of a credit, but I understand about priorities. We’re constantly talking, we’re living in a great place. But it’s not like `let’s just jump in and make this happen.’

“I want, I want, I want, but I’ve got to make sure that it is the right time and there is a reason for it and I accept that.”

Castroneves has three career victories at Belle Isle, including his first career win in 2000 in which he climbed his first fence in celebration. It became his signature victory move and when he won the 500 on May 30 in a part-time entry for Michael Shank, his celebratory fence climb became the indelible moment of the 105th Indy 500.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway had opened to 135,000 fans in the largest sporting event since the start of the pandemic and hundreds of people climbed the fence to celebrate with only the fourth four-time winner. Castroneves was the first driver to join the four-time club since 1991.

He’s made no secret that he wants to be racing full-time in IndyCar but the only ride he could get this year was the six-race deal with Shank, who is conservatively trying to grow his program. Castroneves, 46, spent two decades driving for Roger Penske but had been aged out, moved over to the sports car program in 2018 and then cut loose after winning the IMSA championship last season before Penske folded the team.

“If he wants to go back full time in IndyCar, he definitely should. I feel like he’s been kind of pushed to end his IndyCar career,” Sebastien Bourdais said Monday. “I really feel like that’s the only thing that I’ve regretted for him, that it didn’t end on his terms. He was definitely not showing a slowing-down phase.”

Seats are now going to the younger drivers – IndyCar has six different winners in its six races, four are younger than 24 and three are first-time winners – and teams now are offering rides to Colton Herta, Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward and Rinus VeeKay.

“Right now there’s just a lot of young guys that are very good. The opportunities, like it or not, are probably going to go to Colton, probably going to go to guys like Rinus. It just is what it is,” veteran Graham Rahal said. “Does he deserve to be full time? Of course. He didn’t really get to end it on his terms. It was basically, `Here is what you’re going to go do next year.’ He didn’t get to have kind of a retirement tour. Maybe he doesn’t want one.”

Shank has said his wife makes the business decisions for the team and is very financially conservative, but he believes Castroneves can return to Indianapolis next year for a shot at becoming the first five-time winner.

“Just showing up and winning Indy every year sounds good to me,” Rahal said. “You can make a hell of a lot more money than running full time.”

Until then, Castroneves will try to stay busy. He has run only two races so far this year, but both were victories, beginning with his first career win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car race in January.

Now he’ll try something totally different in the six-race made-for-TV all-star series launched by Stewart and Ray Evernham set to race at classic short tracks across the country. All the venues will be new to Castroneves, as will the cars and the style of the racing. He said he last raced on a dirt track on a BMX bike when he was 8 in Brazil.

“I need to stay active, I need to find something,” he said. “I’m ready to learn, I will try to be competitive for sure. Sometimes you try something new, it might not go the right direction, so let’s see.”

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.”