Notes & Quotes: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Benjamin Pedersen will make his NTT INDYCAR Series debut this weekend driving the No. 55 Sexton Properties Chevrolet in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The 23-year-old Danish American, who competed in the INDY NXT Series by Firestone last year, finished second in that Series' race in St. Petersburg after starting fourth. Raised in Seattle from age 4 on, he considers Portland International Raceway his hometown track and he won both the pole and the race. He was signed by Foyt in September. We asked him a few questions...
What are your thoughts on competing at St. Petersburg? What will be the things you need to focus on as a rookie?
BP: "St. Pete is my first IndyCar race but I do have experience at this track running in the INDY NXT
Series last year which is a big help. We had good success last year with a podium here (finished second) and I want to carry that positive energy into this race and just do the best job we can as a team. That said, the big things to accomplish as a rookie are finishing the race, getting the experience of doing a full-distance INDYCAR race, and maximizing the car we have as a team. The most important things for me to focus on are all of the new things I will experience making the jump to INDYCAR including pit stops, the 'in and out laps' on pitstops which are new to me, saving fuel, and applying strategy."
What was your first exposure to racing that you remember?
BP: "Even though I don't remember it, I was at a race track for the first time ever that my mom took me when I was only six weeks old in Denmark. I always joke that that's when it started even though I don't remember it. My dad wasn't even home, it was to go support a family member."
Do you remember the first race you attended as a youngster where you knew what was going on?
BP: "It was a Formula 1 race in Silverstone, which is a pretty cool event to go to for your first-ever race experience, I think it was 2012."
When did you know you wanted to race cars for a living?
BP: "I knew that from the time I was 15 when I started going into car racing. I have always had a huge passion for racing and at that time I knew this was where I wanted to make my living. It was a no-brainer for me to make this decision when I got the opportunity to pursue it."
Although he didn't know it would be a career at this point, Pedersen's intro to race cars came early.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in reaching this level and how did you overcome it?
BP: "I don't think there is one thing where I would say this or that was the biggest obstacle, but there have been many instances throughout my career where there are things new to me simply because I had never been exposed to them. Everything from the first race I ever did, to racing overseas, my whole career has exposed me to new things. I don't really see them as obstacles but more as new challenges that you learn how to handle. They may at first seem like an obstacle but you learn to figure it out."
Pedersen enroute to his second place finish at St. Pete last year in the INDY NXT Series.
How have you prepared in the offseason for your first year competing in INDYCAR?
BP: "It would be a long list of things I have done to prepare and really went in depth. First of all, last year I was with AJ Foyt Racing at every opportunity I had to shadow the team while I was still competing full-time in the INDY NXT Series. So, the preparations had already started a year ago in that regard. I was basically a driver for Foyt but I just didn't drive the race car last year. I was a part of every meeting and spent as much time with the team as I could. Training has been a big part of my preparation, doing some different forms of training, plus heat training and enduring longer training sessions. I have done a lot of sim (simulator) time. I have also been spending as much time with the team at the shop as possible, whether it has been doing pit stop practice or going through everything we can together to build a foundation for this season. There are so many things that have gone into this year in preparing for the NTT INDYCAR Series.
What surprised you most after getting to know A.J.?
BP: "A.J.'s memory is incredible. You can ask him about any event and he could go on for hours about it from everything to the set-up they ran to what happened in the race. The fact that he can remember every little detail is so impressive."
What are you most looking forward to this year?
BP: "I am looking forward to working with a brand-new team (to me), seeing how INDYCAR racing works from a strategy perspective, pit stops, just everything about it, and understanding how it plays out compared to any junior formula I have done. Honestly, I'm just looking forward to driving, that is what I love the most."
Pedersen at speed in the No. 55 Sexton Properties Chevrolet at Thermal where he tested for two days before testing at Sebring for a day earlier this month.
Do you set goals for yourself? If so, what are your goals for this year?
BP: "I definitely do set goals. I have short-term goals, slightly longer goals, and very long-term goals. There are a lot of goals for this year, but the big ones are learning as much as I possibly can and not overreaching as a rookie in INDYCAR with the new things I will be exposed to. I want to constantly get better, but not in a way where it jeopardizes our efforts as a team. I want to progress as quickly as possible, but with a calculated approach, while always getting the most out of myself from what I have equipment-wise and driving-wise."
Being fluent in Danish but living in America since age 4, how do you remain fluent?
BP: "I speak Danish with my parents. We talk every day and that is our way of communication primarily. Growing up with Danish in the household, it was very natural for me to go back and forth between Danish and English without even thinking about it."
Do you travel to Denmark on a regular basis?
BP: "We don't get to visit Demark on a regular basis. It has been around three years since I was last there. It's so hard to get back there due to the condensed schedule the way it has been for the past few years. We try to go whenever there is an opportunity to visit the family."
What is your favorite Danish food that you’d like to share with or introduce to fans?
BP: "Denmark is well known for pastries. There is one called the Danish Kringle, which is one of my favorite things. It's like an almond croissant."
What would be in your favorite trail mix?
BP: "I like just a basic trail mix. I like one they have at Costco that has peanuts, cashews, M&M's, and raisins."
What natural event would you like to witness in person?
BP: "I have witnessed the Northern Lights, which was pretty amazing. I'd like to see a volcanic eruption."
What song always makes you want to dance?
BP: "Even though I love music, I am not one to dance."
What do you most enjoy doing by yourself?
BP: "I am a very social person, so I don't really do much by myself. I like spending time with friends whether it be doing pickleball or golf, or anything that is active."
How do you spend your spare time?
BP: "I enjoy spending my time being active, playing pickleball and golf, sim time, hanging out with friends, and training, even though that's related to racing I really enjoy my time training. Anything related to action sports or being outside and active, is what I enjoy doing the most."
Pedersen kiteboarding near St. Petersburg last year.
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a race driver?
BP: "I really haven't thought much about what I would do, as being a race driver has always been it to me. I am very happy with the work I have put in and the opportunities that have made this possible. I am grateful that my passion and dream is my reality."
Pedersen Fast Facts: Age 23...Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, moved to Seattle at age 4 and is now living in Indianapolis...Began racing karts at a young age and has competed and won races in the INDY NXT by Firestone Series, British Formula 3, FR Americas Championship, F4 US Championship...Enjoys golf, pickleball, skiing, soccer, snowmobiling, mountain biking, dirt biking.
SANTINO FERRUCCI ON:
Goals for St. Pete: "Our goals for our opening weekend would be to have a smooth race with no hiccups and just no mistakes on both driving and pit stops."
A successful weekend debut: "A successful debut weekend would start with advancing into the second round of qualifying, and it would be awesome to start the year off with a top-10 finish."
Racing at St. Pete: "It's great to start the season off in St. Pete, just being in Florida at a street race is very energizing. The track's fun, it has a really great racing layout and it's also very good for strategy."
Ferrucci chats with Larry Foyt during testing at Thermal.
Ferrucci Fast Facts: Age 24...Born in Woodbury, CT...Lives in Dallas, Texas...Began racing karts at age 5, moved to cars in 2013...Competed in Formula 2000, British Formula 3, GP3 finishing third at Spa Francorchamps as a rookie, was development driver for Haas F1 team for three years (2016-2018), moved to Formula 2 in 2018...moved to NTT INDYCAR Series in 2019 finishing 13th in standings for Dale Coyne and won Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing seventh...13th in standings again with fourth place finish in the 500...drove part-time in 2021-22 but maintained top-10 streak in Indy 500 with finishes of sixth (RLL Racing) and 10th (Dreyer Reinbold Racing)...Competed part-time in NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021-22.
Ferrucci testing the famed No. 14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet at Thermal.
A.J. FOYT, who turned 88 on January 16th, will miss this weekend's race. A close friend and business associate passed away suddenly and Foyt is staying home to attend the funeral.
Foyt Racing Past Performance at St. Petersburg: AJ Foyt Racing’s best start is from pole in 2014 with Takuma Sato. The team’s best finish is fourth with Sebastien Bourdais in 2020. Over the past 18 years, Foyt has fielded 27 entries and racked up 10 top-10s in starting berths including two front row starts (both with Sato). His team has garnered 10 top-10 finishes. In last year's race, Kyle Kirkwood started 12th and finished 18th. Dalton Kellett started 14th but dropped out with gearbox issues and rookie Tatiana Calderón finished 24th.
NBC streaming and broadcast information: NBC's Peacock will stream Friday’s practice from 3 - 4:15 p.m. and Saturday’s practice from 10:00 – 11 a.m. Qualifying will be streamed live on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. Peacock will stream the 30-minute warmup Sunday at 9 a.m. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding will be broadcast live on NBC starting at 12 noon. All times are Eastern.