Count Benjamin Pedersen as one to keep an eye on for the future.
The 22-year-old pilots the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports entry in Indy Lights, the top level of the Road to Indy, a three-tier development ladder for the NTT IndyCar Series. He enjoyed a strong rookie campaign in the series last year, with two runner-up results with four additional podiums en route to a fourth-place finish in the title race. That momentum carried over to this year’s season-opener at St. Petersburg, where he seized another runner-up result.
Now, Indy Lights readies for its second round of the 14-race schedule this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, where Pederson eyes capturing his maiden series victory.
Ahead of that, though, he sat down with TobyChristie.com to share the background on his friendship with Romain Grosjean, racing in Europe during the coronavirus pandemic and more.
Q: You raced last year in Indy Lights, and then obviously this year kicking off the season with the runner up at St. Pete, what have you seen that’s different under the Penske regime?
Benjamin Pedersen: Yeah, the biggest difference for one is, even logistics-wise when you’re at a race weekend now – we would share the same race weekends in the past before we were with IndyCar – but now that we’re fully operating under IndyCar, our trucks are literally parked right next to the IndyCar trucks. We have the same race director (Kyle Novak). We have access to the same driver meeting as IndyCar, everything is a mirror copy to IndyCar. Whereas before there was quite a few subtle differences that wasn’t not quite the same and it follows the traditional Road to Indy path. But, it’s been a big upgrade. So, there’s no better time to be in Lights then now.
Q: Your dad [Christian Pedersen, CEO and founder of Global Racing Group] was involved in Formula One. What was your upbringing like, to give a small summary of your background?
BP: I started in the F4 US championship, which started in 2016 and I did two full years of that here in the States. Then when F3 came to the States, which was all under the FIA, I did that for two years. After that I went to England for British F3. I did two years of British F3. A round of Euroformula Open and a lot of testing in Euroformula Open. Then after I raced in British F3 and in Euroformula, I came back to the States to race in my rookie year of Lights. And then that brings us to where I am now being in my second year in Lights.
In terms of my dad being in F1, He used to work for Microsoft Dynamics and back in 2012, they did a massive partnership with the Lotus F1 team, which my dad was fully behind and it wasn’t just like a sponsorship. It was a full partnership where they used their Microsoft software in the factory for the wind tunnel, etc. He spent many years in F1 being connected to that side of it. So, he knows a lot of people in that world, which is always a good thing.
Q: I’m looking at the background here and I couldn’t help but notice, for your British F3 campaign, one of the years, you raced for Double R Racing, which is obviously Kimi Räikkönen’s team. Is that how that link with Lotus binds together?
BP: Yeah, I mean we got to know Kimi really well, but more so my family got to know Romain Grosjean really well, through the Lotus F1 team. So, I’ve known Romain since 2012. He’s obviously racing in IndyCar now and I see him every weekend. It’s really cool to have a connection that goes that far back. Then in terms of driving for Double R, it didn’t really have anything to do with that connection. It was just a complete coincidence, but funny how that works sometimes.
Q: You talk about Romain. How old were you in 2012 whenever that relationship started?
BP: I was 13.
Q: Who was your racing hero growing up?
BP: There was a couple different ones. Getting to know Romain through F1 and knowing someone personally in F1 was very cool. If I go back to my childhood, big Kimi Räikkönen fan. I pretty much grew up watching (Lewis) Hamilton dominate. From a driving perspective, I really like Hamilton. You see (Max) Verstappen now as well, really strong. He’s had some issues, but there’s a lot of different examples I can think of.”
Q: Do you and Romain get a chance to pick each other’s brain in the same paddock? Is there a lot of interaction now that you’re trying to get to where he is within IndyCar and he’s experiencing what is currently his first full-time season?
BP: Yeah, I would say the relationship between us is more of just a pure friendship. Whenever we see each other in the paddock, we just catch up real quick. But from a driving perspective, we don’t really include that so much just because it’s purely friendship. But sometimes there will be an instance where, maybe something’s up with a track or something’s happened and of course you’re gonna talk about it. Just like driver to driver, but it’s more so just friendship, I would say.
Q: You go under the Denmark flag. Are you from America originally and your family origin is Denmark?
BP: So I was born in Denmark. All my family is still there except for my parents, who are also here in the States. Lived there for four years and then I moved to Seattle because of my dad’s job. Then pretty much grew up in Seattle from age four to September of last year. Now, I’m living in Indianapolis, where I moved to be, it’s just where everything is for IndyCar. It’s where all the teams are, the people are, it’s easy to get to all the tracks on our calendar. It is just the best place, I’m super happy there.
So I’m a Danish citizen and then I’m also a United States citizen; dual citizenship.
Q: You had to race in a different part of the world away from home during COVID, how was that experience?
BP: If you put COVID aside, it’s a big learning experience to go race overseas and be in a different environment with a different team. It’s just a lot of new things. I think being a young driver, it’s really healthy to go through because you learn a lot in that process. Then you add COVID to it and of course there’s no fans at the events, there’s more testing, etc. But, the biggest difference was the race weekend feel or “vibes” that you would get at like the Indy 500 where you have that vibe during the race weekend, suddenly that’s not there. You learn to channel that away and once you’re on the track racing, then it’s exactly the same. Having the atmosphere there makes a big difference. Yeah, it was just different. You just adapt to it and it was the same for everyone. Everyone kind of found a way to deal with it, I guess.
Q: What made the decision for you to bounce back over to America and pursue the Road to Indy and IndyCar?
BP: I knew before I even went to British F3 or even before that matter, going to F3 in America, that my main goal was, and I was super set on it, I want be at the top of open-wheel racing. There’s only two options for that: F1 or IndyCar. So we kind of saw it as let’s go to British F3 to get the experience and become a better driver while being a young driver. So, that itself was the main goal, but then secondly, being over there, being exposed to teams that are also in F3, F2, etc., see if there’s a path there potentially for F1. It was either that, or if that didn’t look realistic, then at least get the experience and become a better driver. Then come back to the States and then do the path to IndyCar, which is what we ended up doing. It definitely made me a lot better driver and something I value a lot, the decision that we did to go to British F3, then come to the States, because you develop in so many areas where I think a lot of American drivers don’t really get that opportunity.
Q: What area specifically did you see improvements with your own craft that you weren’t getting here before you left?
BP: It’s everything from logistics to living in a new country, a new environment, being around a new team, different culture around motorsport. Even etiquette on-track. You know, it rained a lot in England. I became a lot better driver in the rain, it rained almost every day – that’s exaggerated. But it definitely helps. It’s just all areas, it helps you. Whereas in America, I feel for example, there’s a lot of times it will rain during a test or whatever, and then the team says, “We’re not going test” and that’s just kind of a missed opportunity, in my opinion. Because if it rains during a race, you still have to race. Just different philosophy from England, for example, to America.
Q: Your rookie campaign last year, you came out of that gate with the runner-up at Barber to kick things off and you were really knocking on the door for that win.
BP: Yeah, in my rookie year, there was a lot of new things, racing with a new car that now you have Push-to-Pass. It’s a big car, big power. From a car perspective, the only new element really was Push-to-Pass, getting used to that, but it’s pretty straightforward. Then the other big thing in the rookie year, there was a couple new tracks to me that I had to learn in a very short time. Being exposed to them for the first time in a race weekend for the most part. Street circuits were new to me. Ovals were new, we only had one oval at Gateway [World Wide Technology Raceway]. So just getting used to those things so when you come back this year for your second year, those things aren’t new and you can focus on a whole lot of other things, which makes it a lot easier. That’s the big part really, street tracks and ovals. Getting exposed to that, so that you are a better and different driver going into those events.
Q: Did you fall in love with any particular track on the schedule?
BP: I like all of them, to be honest. I’m not really a driver where it’s like, “Oh, now we got to go there.” I like all the tracks, especially because the calendar is so mixed with event type. We got street tracks, which is its own breed. You got your road courses and then you got ovals, which is completely different. As you’re jumping around from different types of tracks, just keeps it fresh. That part I really enjoy. Then we go to Nashville, which will be new this year, I really look forward to. That and Iowa as well, another oval. It looks like a really fun calendar this year.
Q: Do you let yourself think about that “I’m one step away from getting to IndyCar” or are you much more of a live in the moment kind of person and only thinking about the upcoming race at Barber?
BP: I definitely have my goals and create realistic goals for the future, because I think that’s very important. So, I wouldn’t say I don’t just fantasize and dream about going to IndyCar, because I know I’m a lot better than that. I know I can make it there. So it’s more so setting goals along the way to get there and then I’m just super crystal focused on achieving those goals. Those short-term goals with the long-term goals in mind. So, right now I’m honestly just focused on Barber and then the next two events after that. Then at the same time, I’m thinking ahead, I’m preparing for IndyCar. I was at Long Beach, I was at Texas, I was at the Indy open test (last Wednesday). I’m definitely thinking ahead as well at the same time, I think it’s possible to do both.”
Q: The confidence level for you has to be pretty high? Considering you are getting to see most of these tracks twice and you have more starts than a number of other drivers.
BP: Yeah, I definitely feel very, very confident. I have, in my opinion, the best people around me that I can have right now. I feel really good about my driving. I feel really good about how we approach it mentally. We’re not complacent. We are always hungry every weekend we go to, even if we know we’re really strong there. I think we got everything to go and do it. So it’s just a matter of enjoying it and just executing. In my opinion, you got to have fun doing it and that helps you get the results. I’m enjoying every minute of it looking forward to going racing. We haven’t raced since St. Petersburg. I’m itching to go again.
Q: Complete this sentence: Benjamin Pederson will win the 2022 Indy Lights championship, if…
BP: If, we’re just consistently in the top three and get wins whenever we can.