Benjamin Pedersen

AJ Foyt Racing made another big leap forward with a stout qualifying bout in the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR.

Santino Ferrucci and NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie teammate Benjamin Pedersen both advanced out of Group 1 in Round 1 of qualifying and into the Fast 12. That ended a drought as it was the first time AJ Foyt Racing had two cars advance into the second round since the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March 2018, when Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist qualified 10th and third, respectively.

Fresh off a test last week at the 4.014-mile, 14-turn natural terrain road course, Pedersen crafted a respectable performance and qualified 10th with a lap of 1 minute, 41.4989 seconds in the No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet. The outing was his best qualifying showing to date, bettering his 11th-place start in last month’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. His previous best qualifying effort on a road/street course was 19th (Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear).

“We definitely didn't roll out in practice one with the best car, but we just kept our heads down, kept working hard and got it in the window when it mattered,” Pedersen said. “Really, it was the best it felt all week, in qualifying. I was pushing it all I could. Tremendous result from the team. Santino made it through, as well.

“We're just getting better and better. I'm loving every minute. Obviously. Last month for Indy 500 was a tremendous month. This has been a great qualifying, and everyone's very passionate. It's a privilege to be a part of.”

Ferrucci, driver of the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet who did not participate in but observed last week’s test, ended up finishing .1325 of a second behind Pedersen to claim the 11th starting spot. In the five previous road/street course races, Ferrucci had managed no better than 17th (St. Petersburg).

Overall, it has been gritty but continued progress for the team founded by four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and racing legend A.J. Foyt. The most visible signs of resurgence came at the Indy 500, where Ferrucci qualified fourth and finished third and Pedersen qualified 11th and finished 21st.

“That's pretty impressive,” Ferrucci said. “My teammate did a fantastic job, too, all weekend, and I think he struggled a little bit more at the start. But having that test here last week for him was huge.”

Ferrucci continued to express just how significant the strides have been for the team since preseason testing at The Thermal Club in early February.

“Our program, when we started in Thermal, we were two or three seconds off,” Ferrucci said. “We got to Barber (Motorsports Park in April) and started to close the gap a little bit. Indy GP (GMR Grand Prix in early May) really started to close the gap. And then coming here just once again, it's just little things.

“Our car right now is faster on the primary (black sidewall Firestone) tire, and so we're still missing that little bit to get on the alternates (red sidewall Firestone tire). So, that's next for us in the next stage for maybe when we go to Mid-Ohio (Sports Car Course), but very proud of our entire Sexton/Chevrolet/AJ Foyt Racing crew here.”

Palou Perseveres

Alex Palou qualified third for Sunday’s 55-lap race, which is an achievement in itself after crashing in Saturday morning’s practice session.

After going fastest in the opening five minutes of the weekend’s second practice, Palou ended up going off in Turn 14 and skidded through the gravel trap before pounding into the tire barrier with the right side of his car. The result left significant damage to the right side of his No. 10 The American Legion Honda, as crew members from Chip Ganassi Racing scrambled to make repairs.

The car arrived in the pit lane right at the start of qualifying and without a chance to go through technical inspection, which is not required but recommended to keep teams from guessing how legal a car is and seeing a time disallowed. The extent of the damage required a new underwing and rear wing for Palou’s machine, along with changes made to the car courtesy of teammates Marcus Ericsson and rookie Marcus Armstrong.

Palou, the championship leader coming into this weekend, put down a flying lap of 1:40.4930, which was .2985 of a second off Colton Herta’s pole time.

“I mean, it hurts,” Palou said. “It hurts because we could have been fighting for pole even more without that crash. But anyway, good recovery. Amazing job by all the Ganassi team making sure that we had our car on track and getting ready for tomorrow.”

After the session, Palou’s car did go through the proper process of technical inspection.

Early Qualifying Exits for Dixon, Power

The tangle between Scott Dixon and Will Power during practice Saturday morning continued to bring misery into qualifying.

Dixon, driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, was forced to switch to a backup car after his primary suffered heavy damage. The team plugged the engine from the primary car into the backup car, along with a rear end and transferable electronics. So, the first laps turned came during his opening group running in Round 1 of qualifying, where Dixon spun in Turn 3 and failed to advance.

Six-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon will roll off tomorrow from 23rd in the 27-car field, which marks his worst qualifying performance of the year and first time outside the top 10 in 2023.

“Just huge thanks to everybody on the PNC Bank No. 9 and actually all of Ganassi for chipping in,” Dixon said. “Unfortunately, where it had crashed it kind of dented the tub a little bit. The tub is fine, but they thought it best not to run it, so we had to switch to another car, and it was a tight, tight turnaround. They worked their butts off.

“But, yeah, got in the car and the brake bias was at like a really odd number, like 20 percent abnormal, so I wasn't sure where the brakes were. And then the steering was off. I don't know, maybe the caster wasn't right or something, either. It was just a bit of a mismatch. I think we still had the pace to convert, but I made those two mistakes. I felt like I was locking rears going into Turn 3, and I lost the rear both times there. Yeah, it sucks.”

The repairs were equally extensive for Power, too, with the practice crash leading to changes to the primary car that spanned from a new rear assembly, front suspension, steering rack and underwing, among other minor alterations.

Power started his qualifying session with a screwdriver under his pedals in the cockpit, mistakenly left after the extensive but brisk repair job by the crew members at Team Penske.

After a brief return to pit lane so the team could retrieve the tool from the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power returned to the track. While pressing to find time, he went off in Turn 14 and failed to advance out of Round 1.

Power, a two-time and defending INDYCAR SERIES champion, only managed to qualify 21st - one spot better than Dixon.

Mighty in Practice, Malukas Slips in Qualifying

David Malukas was the best driver to not advance into the Fast 12 and qualified 13th at “America’s National Park of Speed” with a flying lap of 1:41.5204.

On some weekends, that might not be something to be upset about but the Lithuanian-American, born in nearby Chicago, unloaded second fastest on Friday’s opening practice and was fourth on the time sheets at the end of the weekend’s second practice Saturday morning.

“Yeah, I don't know what happened,” said Malukas, driver of the No. 18 HMD Trucking Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD. “You know, our car was very good and then coming to when it really matters, it really wasn't there. We just really were struggling with understeer.

“I don't know if we just tipped it over but yeah, we put those reds (softer alternate compound) on, and we were expecting to go quicker. They were really struggling on me, and I couldn't get them to work. So, our heads are going to be scratching, and that really is not what we wanted.”

The frustration continued to mount as Malukas vented about the performance.

“It's really unfortunate, man,” he said. “It looks so promising, and it was just don't advance again after first qualifying, man. Still another race where we don't get Fast 12. It's very frustrating, and I don't know … we're going to go back and look into it.”

Odds & Ends

  • Power is without refueler Eric Crabtree this weekend following the sudden, tragic passing of his wife, Brittany. Ben Bretzman, race engineer for Power’s teammate, Scott McLaughlin, started a GoFundMe for those that wish to donate and help provide support.
  • There was a track change ahead of Saturday’s running, with two pieces of curbing in the apex of Turn 14 removed and spot repaired to remove any leading edges. The area of the curbing is offline.
  • Felix Rosenqvist qualified 16th in the No. 6 onsemi Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, the first time this season the Swede failed to secure a top-10 starting spot.
  • Devlin DeFrancesco qualified 12th in the No. 29 EVTEC Honda for Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport. The result matches his best qualifying outing of the year (PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway in April).
  • Christian Lundgaard narrowly missed the Firestone Fast Six and put the No. 45 Vivid Clear Rx Honda into seventh, best among his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammates Graham Rahal (14th) and Jack Harvey (24th). It marks the third time over the last five rounds Lundgaard has started in the top 10.
  • After two previous qualifying outings of 11th, Armstrong finally managed to break into the top 10, with an eighth place starting spot in his No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda the best among all rookies at Road America.