Benjamin Pedersen’s first experience in an IndyCar filled the 22-year-old with immense confidence. With plans to graduate to the NTT IndyCar Series next year, the driver of the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports Indy Lights car loved everything about trading his Dallara IL15-AER for Juncos Hollinger Racing’s No. 77 Dallara DW12-Chevy at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Monday.
Split into morning and afternoon sessions and sharing the track with all three Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers, Pedersen turned 42 laps to start the day and ended up fourth with an unofficial best of 53.441s compared to the fastest lap of 52.813s set by Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Honda.
Returning after lunch, the end-of-day new-tire runs by the group resulted in Pedersen leading the way with a 52.859s with Rahal (52.963s), Christian Lundgaard (52.989s) and Jack Harvey (53.397s) trailing the young Danish-American talent.
“The first run on track was just getting to know a new car and carbon brakes, which I’ve never tried before,” Pedersen told RACER. “But right away in the first session, I think we were only like, two or three tenths off what the Rahal team was running. We’re like, ‘OK, we’re right in the ballpark.’ I think Rahal were running a lot of Push-to-Pass, testing and stuff for Honda, so it was a little hard to gauge the pace there, so we just really focused on our program and we went through all the planned test items for the team today and more.
“That was really, really good. Got to try a lot of different setup things, found some things that I really liked that we kept for the end of the day. And we pretty much ticked everything off the box that the team wanted to from a test perspective. Then everyone finished the day with a new-tire run and that was coordinated with all the teams for when the track got better, so all our laps at the end were representative.”
Pedersen had no expectations to leave Sebring with the top lap at the end of the afternoon session.
“I kind of surprised myself, to be honest!” he said. “But we definitely put a lot of work into it as well. So yeah, I really, really enjoyed working with the Juncos Hollinger Racing team. They were super welcoming. That was a really successful test.”
An alliance with A.J. Foyt Racing has brought Pedersen up to speed on the operation side of IndyCar, and with a heavy investment in his physical training, the No. 77 Chevy did not overwhelm its driver.
“Overall, I was really happy with my physical level; I was actually kind of expecting it to be quite a bit harder than it was,” he said. “I’ve been training for IndyCar for the past year now because we knew that was the next step. So it was really cool to see that all that extra training to prep for IndyCar that has paid off, but the steering load was fine. My neck was good. The thing that kind of caught me by surprise was how hot it gets once you come to a stop in pit lane. On track is fine. But once you get to a stop, it just heat soaks and it’s just so hot. That was the biggest new thing, but the more you sit on pit lane, the more you get used to it.”
Ricardo Juncos was duly impressed.
“He did zero mistakes,” he said. “Very good launching the car from the pits, great feedback, very clean. Pace was there all the time. I’m quite happy with everything Benjamin did. I’m very impressed with him.”