INDIANAPOLIS — AJ Foyt Racing is facing another reset year for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. For at least the fourth time in the last five years, one of the two full time cars will have a different driver. There’s a possibility that the second car may have multiple drivers in it too.
Also in that time frame, they’ve gone from Honda power to Chevy and have also faced an overhaul in the engineering department. The reason for all the changes? Lack of success.
Foyt, has won since the 2013 Long Beach Grand Prix. In fact, that’s their lone win since the 2003 season. Also since 2003, they’ve only scored 16 top five finishes overall. The most any driver for them have scored in a single season was two.
Furthermore, Foyt has produced only three poles, all coming by Sato, since 2000 and 40 top 10’s since 2012.
After another struggling year in 2019 which saw Tony Kanaan finish 15th in the final points and Matheus Leist 19th, it was time for another reset. Kanaan, only had one top five and four top 10’s in his No. 14 Chevrolet. Leist, had one top five and two top 10’s. Over their two year period as teammates, Leist’s top five and two top 10’s last year were all that he scored in 34 starts. Kanaan, had just one top five and eight top 10’s himself.
Then, throw in longtime sponsor ABC Supply leaving them with the exception of the Indy 500, and you get another rebuild.
“We are in a bit of a reset coming off a tough year,” President Larry Foyt said on Wednesday when announcing Charlie Kimball as one of his drivers for 2020. “So I really like the fact, when we started talking to Charlie (Kimball) and he was available, here’s a guy with a lot of experience. I think Charlie’s a technical driver. He showed he can win. He showed he can finish in the top ten in the championship. And those are just all the things that we want to build on.
“So that’s just a really good fit for us because we have some new engineers on board. So I think a guy coming in with Charlie’s mindset and with what Charlie can do behind the wheel is exactly what we needed.
“This is just a great opportunity to say, hey, let’s kind of hit the reset button.”
Setups are what they need. Foyt said last year was not only frustrating because of the results, but frustrating because the lack of results wasn’t because of the lack of effort within their organization. The team had the work ethic and even some data that showed they’d be strong, but then they’d get to the race track and it would go completely the opposite.
“I want all the effort we’re putting in to start showing some results,” Foyt continued. “Last year was such a tough year for us because the effort just wasn’t equaling anything on the track that we were putting in, and that was very frustrating for everybody.
“It was just stuff that a lot of times we felt showed well in our off-track testing, and when we got to the track, it seemed like, when we tried it, that was the right way to go still. But then as the track rubbered up and things like that started to happen, all of a sudden, you’re not where you need to be. And understanding the way that happens for race weekend is one of the really difficult parts of INDYCAR. The tracks change from session to session, and all of a sudden, you thought you were in a good place, and now you’re behind a little bit.
“So it’s just all of that stuff together. We’ve been doing this a long time, so as your setups evolve, we don’t feel like we’re in a terrible place there, but we felt like maybe the way our setups were working with our dampers, that wasn’t the right way, and I think that’s an area where we try to get to a place where we feel like we know better and start working from there.
“So With Charlie coming in — and like I said, I think he’s going to do great stuff for our setups and be able to give great feedback, from everything I’ve heard of speaking with people who have worked with him in the past. I think that’s going to be big for us to quickly just try to find those few tenths that we were missing last year. I think that’s going to pay a lot of dividends for the team.”
Another part of the reason that they struggled last year was that the series is just so close, if you miss a setup by the smallest of margins, it could be the difference of finishing in the top five and finishing last.
“INDYCAR is so close. So even when you feel like you’re on your back foot and you’re really struggling, as we were in many places last year, sometimes you’re not that far away. We definitely took some directions.”
Foyt notes that in order to have success in IndyCar too, you have to start off on the right footing quickly. The series is too tough and too deep to dig yourself out of a hole early on. If you go down the wrong path of setups early, it’s tough to slow down and go the other direction.
“What’s so tough about the INDYCAR SERIES is, once you get into the season, it’s very tough to dig yourself out of a hole. It’s not saying it can’t be done. But you know the summer stretch that we have after Indianapolis and we’re going back-to-back races, and it’s hard to — there’s not a lot of testing at that time, and it’s just very hard to dig yourself if you’ve gone down a wrong path.
“We definitely feel like we headed down a wrong path last year, and the good thing is we’ve got guys coming in we’ve worked with before. Mike Colliver is going to be one of our engineers this year. Mike Pawlowski will be as well. Both guys that are coming from places that they’ve seen a lot, they know a lot. So I think we’re going to be able to just kind of reset back to where we feel like is a good spot to then begin our development again.
“So I don’t think we’re going to come out and set the world on fire. That’s not what we’re — that would be great. We have a strategic plan of getting back to point zero and let’s start building again from there. So that’s the plan, and it’s not that we think we’re going to struggle like we did last year for sure. I’d be very disappointed if that’s the case. I think the engineers are very reasonable guys that have a good plan, and we’re going to go forward.”
A prime example of this is the Indy 500. In 2018, both Foyt cars were so strong. In 2019, they were completely off. That baffled them. They made enhancements in the offseason but the competitiveness of the series saw other teams rise too.
“We were very confident going back into the Speedway this year that we’d be strong, and we just weren’t. Where other teams had gained a little bit, we hadn’t gained as much. That’s how tough INDYCAR is. Everybody is constantly gaining, and if you don’t, you’re going to fall behind very quickly.”
In terms of legitimate goals for 2020, Foyt said that making it out of the first round is the ultimate goal. Good starting position to so key in this series and showing speed on Saturday’s is going down the right path for success in the most competitive series in the world.
“I think on the road course, second round qualifying is always a good goal to shoot for for a team in our situation, maybe a bit of a smaller team that is working their way back up. I think definitely, if you can make that transfer, that’s a good goal to have, and you always want to finish well. I’d love to see Charlie fighting for a top ten in the championship, which is tough because, if you look at the field of INDYCAR, you’ve got to beat some very good cars to get to that top ten point.
“For me, that’s a goal. I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I think it’s a good challenge. That’s what I’d like to see us shoot for.
“I think everything starts with the basics. I think we went outside the box last year a little bit, and that’s probably why we were in the situation we’re in.
“But I agree with you. I think the expectation isn’t really high, and that’s okay. I think that’s a fine place for us to be in because it would be good to go out and surprise some people. If we can consistently show some speed and show we’re headed in the right direction, I think it would be great for all of us and a great story. So I think that’s a good situation for us to be in.
“I think the basics are the most important to get down, especially when everything is so close and you have to make this car — it’s a lot harder to drive than it used to be with this different level of downforce. So I think letting the driver get the most out of his ability out of the car comes first. So I think if we can make good driving cars, then Charlie can do the job.”
In terms of who will be Kimball’s teammate in 2020, Tony Kanaan is still expected to be back.
“Oh, I’m sure he (Kanaan) will. We’ve been working together. I think we’re getting everything buttoned up. Like I said, a couple weeks, I think that news will be ready to be coming out.”