Benjamin Pedersen is preparing for his second Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race of the season this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, but he’s had the NTT INDYCAR SERIES on his mind in the two months since the Indy Lights season opener in late February at St. Petersburg.
At NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at Texas Motor Speedway and Long Beach, as well as last week’s Indy 500 Open Test, Pedersen immersed himself with AJ Foyt Racing and its rookie driver Kyle Kirkwood to learn the ins-and-outs of the series in which he aspires to race.
The AJ Foyt Racing team has opened its arms to Pedersen and allowed him the opportunity to be involved with team meetings, spend time in the pit stand and digest feedback from Kirkwood, who drives the No. 14 ROKiT / AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.
“I understand that it's pretty rare that an INDYCAR team will just let a guy come in and be a part of it like they do,” Pedersen said. “Kyle and I are good friends. We've raced since age 4 together, so he's there with the team, and the team is really open to me being there and learning. I'm definitely grateful for that opportunity.”
Pedersen started attending NTT INDYCAR SERIES races with Kirkwood because the two are good friends and because his driving coach, Jonatan Jorge, has urged him to seize the opportunity to get a head start on his future.
Pedersen said he has learned simple details about NTT INDYCAR SERIES racing that he wouldn’t otherwise learn until he was part of an INDYCAR team, such as strategy, pit stops and how to properly stop in the pit box.
Last week at the Indianapolis 500 Open Test, where AJ Foyt Racing had Kirkwood, JR Hildebrand and Dalton Kellett testing for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Pedersen was with Kirkwood on Day 1 learning about oval racing.
Pedersen’s eyes were opened to the tools available to NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers on ovals, such as weight jackers and other things a driver can do from inside the car to improve performance.
“It's just a lot of new things that unless you're there with a team, seeing those things you would never really think about,” Pedersen said. “And that in itself is why I'm here, and I've learned a lot here.”
While Pedersen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, is getting a leg up on his competitors that also want to race in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, he said he’s learning more about open-wheel racing, in general, that he believes he can apply to this Sunday’s Indy Lights race (11 a.m. ET, live on Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network).
Indy Lights is the final step before North America’s premier open-wheel series, and the cars are similar enough that drivers arrive to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES prepared to compete against that series’ established stars.
That makes Pedersen confident in his return to Barber Motorsports Park, where he finished second last year in his career-best Indy Lights finish. Pedersen is also coming off a second-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg.
All of this, plus a successful Indy Lights test at Barber a few weeks ago, make Pedersen confident he could earn his first career Indy Lights win in the No. 24 Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports car at Barber.
“I expect us to do really well,” he said. “We were really strong in that preseason test we had there, but I’m definitely not complacent in any way. I think when you're in that position, and you've pretty much been fastest at every test at Barber, it's really easy to get complacent.
“I think you just kind of switch the brain to thinking that you're not the best there so that you push even harder and just work extra hard to make sure you stay at the front.”
Pedersen said this mindset allows him to focus on the championship, which is his primary focus. Finishing second in St. Petersburg was frustrating, but he takes solace in knowing he’s just 11 points behind leader Matthew Brabham.
But beyond that, Pedersen admitted he has his sights on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and wants to climb to the series in 2023, making his opportunity with AJ Foyt Racing even more beneficial.
“Looking into next year, the goal and plan is 100 percent to be in INDYCAR,” Pedersen said. “We're still kind of looking at what that looks like and talking with different teams. So, that's still an ongoing process. But to answer in one sentence, the plan and goal is 100 percent to be in INDYCAR next year.”
The Indy Lights action at Barber kicks off Friday with practice at 2:45 p.m. (ET), live on the INDYCAR Live! streaming service and INDYCAR Radio Network.