One of ProFormance’s own is achieving his high-stakes racing dream.
Some years ago Benjamin Pedersen donned the red shirt of ProFormance Racing School’s acclaimed instructors. But while he cultivated drivers at Pacific Raceways he kept pursuing his own racing goals. Recently Benjamin has checked off a few of those impressive goals: he joined the AJ Foyt Racing IndyCar team, raced in the 2023 Indianapolis 500, and was named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year.
Getting the IndyCar gig
To be accepted into any IndyCar team, much less one led by a man named Foyt, takes experience. Benjamin gained his racing for the last two years in Indy Lights, which is now called Indy NXT. The last step on the road to IndyCar, Indy NXT is designed to nurture young racing talent and produce the next generation of winners. The series shares the same race weekends with IndyCar, allowing young drivers to learn from the best.
After success in Indy NXT, “I saw a good opportunity with AJ Foyt Racing, the chance to grow in the future.” He raced as number 55.
Indy 500: the big one
“Indy 500 is not like any other month, or any other race weekend I’ve done,” says Benjamin of his experience this May. “Even if you’re coming from F1 or any other series, no other race has that kind of attendance and prestige.” It’s a crowded month, full of activities like Carb Day, Fast Friday, and of course the intense rounds of qualifying. “But once you’re in the car, once you get into race mode, you forget that, and it feels like home. After all the pre-race stuff you get into your own space, which is nice.” Incidentally, “your own space” is in front of 300,000 spectators and a worldwide viewership of almost five million.
Benjamin Pedersen: rookie of the year
At this year’s Indy 500 Benjamin appeared to be headed for a place in the top fifteen finishers when he was hit from behind and taken out of the race with just 5 laps to go. Nevertheless he seized the title of Fastest Rookie Ever for his qualifying time, earning 11th place on the grid, ahead of previous Indy 500 winners, race veterans, and drivers from big-money teams. His remarkable qualifying times helped him win Rookie of the Year, though the judges also take into consideration “media and fan interaction, sportsmanship and positive influence on the Indy 500” along with track performance.
A.J. Foyt: boss and legend
For those not up on American motorsport history, A.J. Foyt is a true racing legend: the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, and the only driver to take first not just at the Indy 500 but at the Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well. After striding 1960s and 1970s racing like a colossus, Foyt formed his team to continue that legacy with young, talented drivers like Benjamin Pedersen.
“It’s a very special team to be part of,” says Benjamin, who also notes that Foyt is no mere figurehead, but an energetic and involved head of his operation. “A.J. was there every day, as early as we were.” Still, it’s hard to ignore the history behind the Foyt name. Benjamin raced in a replica of a Foyt suit from the 1980s. “The original zippers are printed on, but the patches are real. Everyone liked that.” The team also enjoyed seeing Benjamin’s car sporting the iconic Coyote Red colors in which his boss drove to his third and fourth Indy 500 victories decades ago.
The learning experience
Everything at Indy 500 this year was new to Benjamin. “Going into next year, I’ll have a completely different understanding of the race. As a rookie you don’t know what to expect. Drivers who have done it for 20 years know about Community Days and the other traditions. You get to know what the event means.”
Experience teaches you a lot about the technical side as well. “You understand better what you want from your car, the pit stops… coming off Turn Four when you’re going over 200 isn’t easy.” Benjamin raced oval tracks before with Indy Lights, but never a super speedway like Indy.
“Ovals are their own thing. The setup is completely different. I love the ovals; they’re very natural for me. Having a good car is extremely important – it’s very hard to make up for having a car that’s lacking. You can’t overdrive it and get away with it – to be fast on an oval, you really need a good car.”
A new breed of car
Benjamin is aware that his generation of IndyCar racers benefits from highly evolved engineering. “We’re fortunate to have such great cars. The older generation of drivers didn’t have the same machines when they were in the early version of Indy NXT.”
The IndyCars all share the Dallara chassis, with engines by Honda or Chevy – Foyt is team Chevy. While much is standardized, the big topic in IndyCar development nowadays is one particular open area: damper design. “The rockers and assemblies around the dampers get extremely technical, from a geometry perspective. Take a team like Andretti Autosport; their budget for damper development is way beyond ours.” It’s worth noting that AJ Foyt Racing outqualified all of the Andretti cars, however. But some tracks are very damper-dependent, which will pose challenges for the Foyt team in the future.
Cars matter, and roads matter too. Benjamin is now at Road America. “They’ve improved the track, with brand new pavement, so the grip levels are very high. I expect to see the fastest ever times there. It’s definitely one of the fastest IndyCar tracks.”
Friends and road warriors
Despite the competitive nature of motor racing, the IndyCar paddock is a friendly place. “When you get to the highest level, you’re going to be racing against those guys for many years,” Benjamin says. “It doesn’t pay to be unfriendly – not that it’s part of my nature to be unfriendly anyway.” Once you’re off the track, he notes, camaraderie is vital; its what makes the paddock atmosphere so gratifying.
Gearing Up for IndyCar 2023
This year’s IndyCar season is a grueling 17 weekends of heart-pounding racing, flying two inches off the ground at more than 200mph. It’s a lot of travel, and a lot of pressure for a rookie IndyCar driver, culminating at Monterey in September. And while Benjamin Pedersen is doing his part to make racing history, he’ll be carrying a bit of ProFormance history with him.
“I love every part of it,” Benjamin says. Though he does admit that the month of May was “pretty darn special.”
Top Image: Benjamin Pedersen in his fire suit inspired by his legendary boss A.J. Foyt. Photo: AJ Foyt Racing