No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, you’re definitely still on DirtFish, the home of rallying…
It might surprise you to read about Benjamin Pedersen – a rising star on IndyCar’s Road to Indy support ladder – on this website, but the 21-year-old has been a part of the DirtFish family for a number of years, having had our famous orange colors adorn his cars for his entire racing career.
“We’ve been very close to Steve [Rimmer, DirtFish founder] since I was in middle school, so I’ve known him for a very long time,” Pedersen says. “And then when I started racing in Formula 4 here in the States in 2016, Steve and DirtFish have been supporting me ever since then.”
It’s certainly not a one-sided relationship, either.
Of course, DirtFish began life as – and still is – a rally school outside of Seattle. Not the natural habitat of an open-wheel pedaller, but the place where countless off-road racers have sharpened their skills has certainly been of benefit to Pedersen over the years too.
“Ever since F4 we’ve done a yearly thing with Global Racing Group, which is my family’s team, where we come out and do a two-to-three-day class,” adds Pedersen.
“I’ve probably done six to seven days at DirtFish. We usually do it in rear-wheel-drive to make it as similar as possible to what we have in the race car.
“The biggest teaching point for us or circuit racers coming to do DirtFish is obviously car control. That’s the big thing, but more so it’s understanding weight management and weight transfer and everything like that.
“The way you manage the weight in the car, it makes it so much more exaggerated than in the Indy Lights car. So it fine-tunes how sensitive we are to letting the car slide and what inputs we can do to make the car do certain things, and it totally translates to circuit racing.”
Car control is, obviously, key when it comes to racing any kind of car, but the Indy Lights schedule is one of the most varied in all of motorsport.
Characterful old road courses, squeaky-clean new ones, street tracks, and of course ovals – that level of variety requires a driver to be versatile, and draws serious parallels to the world of rallying and what DirtFish specialises in.
“The last weekend in St Petersburg, we were on the street course and there, especially more than any track I’ve ever witnessed, the grip levels were changing every session,” Pedersen explains.
“In [free] practice one the roads were very ‘green’, there’s not a lot of rubber on the track, so it was very slippery. But then sharing the weekend with IndyCar and the other junior formula series, the rubber that goes down after every session and adds to the grip level.
“The track is always changing, it makes adapting to tracks easier because as in rally, conditions are always changing.”
Pedersen’s car racing career began in US F4 in 2016 and he remained there until 2018, a year in which he also entered the inaugural season of Formula Regional Americas and made the rostrum in all but one of the races he entered there.
For 2019 he crossed the pond to race in Britain’s Formula 3 series and won a race, but he maintained his presence in FR Americas too and despite missing a third of the season was the title runner-up. Like taking part in regular classes at DirtFish, the move abroad was made to further Pedersen’s credentials as an all-out driver.
“Ever since I started in F4 I’ve been very goal-minded with, with my goal being to get to the top level of open-wheel racing. And the reality of that is there’s only two options for that: It’s either Formula 1 in Europe or it’s IndyCar in America,” he said.
“The competition, it’s not necessarily better in Europe, but it’s more deep. For example, in America, I would say, on most junior formula levels, for example, say 15 of the 30 drivers are going to be very, very high level.
“It’s not necessarily a higher or lower level than Europe, but you go to Europe and it’s going to be 25 out of 30 that are at the same level as the 15 here in America.
“We were always aware of that, and we’re thinking that two years in Europe would help better me as a driver. So really Europe was a stepping stone into making me a better driver and pushing myself, so that if I chose to come back to America, which I did to pursue IndyCar, then I would be a better driver today.”
In 2020, Pedersen combined BRDC British F3, FR Americas and Euroformula into a packed racing schedule despite the COVID-19 pandemic limiting travel.
“It was always just a matter of going to Europe, gaining as much experience as I could, and then coming back to America. Now we’re in Indy Lights, the goal is absolutely to go to IndyCar, and we’re only one step away from that.”
Pedersen’s 2021 season, his first a step away from that ultimate goal, began impressively with a podium at Barber Motorsports Park.
“We finished one-two. It couldn’t have been much better for the team,” he says.
“After the first race weekend, I was sitting P4 in the championship, so that was a good start considering I’m a rookie in Indy Lights.”
Next up came St Petersburg – not just a new track, but a whole new type of environment for Pedersen.
“We knew going in it was going to be a little bit tricky considering it’s my first ever time doing a street course,” he says. “I had to learn the track super-fast and digest everything as quickly as possible.
“We were pretty decent considering we were the only ones there that hadn’t been on a street course.”
Pedersen had a fourth place finish in his targets towards the end of the first St Pete race, but a pass for the position unfortunately resulted in a spin and undid his progress up the order.
“Race one was almost flawless heading up to that point. To go from eighth up to battling fourth on our first race on the street course, it only boosted my confidence for race two because everything was in our favor there.”
In that second race Pedersen was on the move once again, progressing from ninth to finish sixth and making more passes than the rest of the field in the process.
Next up is Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, a track where Pedersen visited the podium in his previous visit in F4 and that has left him “feeling very strong” – and it’s not all about the next round either.
On June 12-13 is a return to street racing in Detroit, and is another event circled on the calendar.
“Having my first street course out of the way, and knowing that we were able to learn really quickly, I’m feeling very confident for Detroit,” he says. “Nobody else in this series has raced there before.
“I think Detroit is going to be a very exciting round and one that I feel good about.”
You can follow Benjamin Pedersen’s Indy Lights exploits throughout 2021 right here at DirtFish.