If there was an AJ Foyt Racing team member who didn’t hug rookie driver Benjamin Pedersen at the close of Saturday’s PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying round at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s because they weren’t on pit road.
Pedersen was engulfed in jubilation first by members of his crew, then he took well-wishes from the men and women working on Santino Ferrucci’s car.
Finally, Pedersen and Ferrucci came together to congratulate each other. It was that kind of double gratification as A.J. Foyt’s team advanced both of its drivers and their cars to Sunday’s Fast 12 round in pursuit of the most prestigious pole in motorsports. The 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is Sunday, May 28.
It not only was a significant moment for the organization, it was an emotional lift for the Foyt family, which lost its matriarch, Lucy, in April. She and A.J. were married nearly 68 years.
“With everything we’ve been through with the family, we needed this,” team president Larry Foyt said.
Five NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams placed a driver in the Fast 12 round, but only three advanced more than one. Two were not a surprise, as Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow McLaren employ drivers who dominated last year’s “500,” but AJ Foyt Racing hadn’t qualified two in the top 12 at IMS since 2018, and that didn’t feel as impactful since that qualifying session was based on a Fast Nine format.
Thus, this felt significantly bigger. Ferrucci earned the ninth position in the No. 14 Homes For Our Troops Chevrolet at 233.147 mph while Pedersen averaged 232.739 mph in the No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet to grab the 11th position. Both drivers are 24 years old.
Pedersen not only was the fastest driver among the event’s four rookies, he posted the second-fastest four-lap qualifying average for a first-timer since Tony Stewart ran 233.100 mph in 1996.
Prior to 2018, the last time this team had such a complete qualifying day at IMS was in 2000 when Eliseo Salazar and Jeff Ward qualified third and sixth, respectively. In the race, they finished third and fourth.
“We qualified well in 2018, but it’s probably been since then that this day hasn’t been a panic day,” Larry Foyt said. “You really feel for some of the teams going through it because we’ve all been there, but this has been so nice to be under control, to have speed in the cars. The drivers put together great runs. You could see the excitement. We worked really hard for this.”
Foyt said the team wasn’t all that happy with the road course cars they used in last month’s Open Test, but it returned with its speedway cars, and it’s been smooth sailing this week. Ferrucci has been in the top 11 of each session, No. 3 on Wednesday and No. 7 on Friday. Pedersen was 15th Friday.
“We unloaded (off the truck), and both drivers were really happy,” Foyt said. “It’s just a testament to all the engineering.”
That program is led by veteran engineer Michael Cannon, who has worked IMS magic with so many teams over the years – and then the drivers did the rest. Neither needed a second qualifying attempt Saturday.
“It’s been a great week, the best month I’ve had here in five years,” said Ferrucci, who has converted an average “500” starting position of 20.0 into four top-10 finishes. “It’s pretty impressive what we’ve done – pretty sick, actually – and now we’re going to keep the momentum rolling. I know we’ve got good race cars, and I’ve felt better in my (race setup) than in my qualifying (setup). So, we’ll keep pushing and make the most of it.”
The Fast 12 qualifying session begins at 2 p.m. ET (Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network). The fastest six will make a run for the NTT P1 Award in the Firestone Fast Six round at 5:15 p.m. (NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network)
“I believed (advancing was possible), but it was making it happen,” Pedersen said. “Both cars are in, and it’s such a surreal feeling. We’re looking forward to pushing like hell tomorrow.”
Foyt credited Pedersen for being “so calm and cool on these ovals, and he did a great job at Texas (Motor Speedway), as well.” And now, the team has a special opportunity that it doesn’t want to squander.
“We’re racers, so we always want more, right?” Foyt said. “We think there’s more speed in the car, which is exciting. But we don’t want to do anything silly. We don’t want to risk our cars, but we think we can get a little higher up the grid.”
That, too, would be something to celebrate.