A Tale Of Two Cities

With apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens for borrowing his title; one might expect the obligatory quote about it being the best of times or something to that effect. Unfortunately for one of the teams in the IndyCar paddock, the worst of times may be more appropriate since their drivers are currently ranked fifteenth and nineteenth in the points standings. A sample of three races is not a fair assessment of anything. Sometimes, it takes more than a couple of seasons to make a decision on whether something is working or not. That being said, it is awfully tempting to go ahead and give a thumbs-down on the two-car effort of AJ Foyt Enterprises being located in two different cities.

Most of the Verizon IndyCar Series teams are based in Indianapolis. The exceptions are Team Penske, which is based in Charlotte; Dale Coyne Racing which is located just outside of Chicago and AJ Foyt Enterprises, based in the Houston area. A few years ago, the Foyt team bought garage space on Main Street in Speedway. The thought was they could operate out of there for not only the Month of May, but also for some of the summer races located near Indianapolis in the Midwest.

Beginning with this season, Team Manager Larry Foyt made the curious decision to permanently house one of the two fulltime cars they field in Indianapolis, while the other would remain in Houston. The rationale was that it would be easier to recruit better talent on the team from the Indianapolis area than it would be to convince someone to move to Houston. Indy car technical expertise is a cottage industry in Indianapolis, since the majority of the teams are based there. I can see where it might be tough to convince a mechanic or engineer that has been in Indianapolis for years, to uproot their family and move a thousand miles away to Houston.

Plus, if they need special parts from Dallara – they have to be shipped from Indianapolis. I don’t know if there is any cooperative sharing among teams in the Indianapolis area, but it’s hard to share with a team exiled in Houston.

What they decided to do was to have the lead car of Carlos Muñoz, that carries the familiar No.14, stay in Houston. The newly renumbered No.4 car of Conor Daly would permanently move to the shop in Indianapolis. Thereby completely splitting the two teams and having them separated by a thousand miles.

When this plan was announced, it sounded iffy, at best. The main reason for having a teammate is to have a collaborative effort for the sharing of data and ideas. I think most people raised their collective eyebrows and were skeptical that such an arrangement could work.

Some of the reasons given made sense. Not only was there more potential crew talent in the Indianapolis area, but Conor Daly is already from the area and would not have to move. It was presented as a win-win.

But they are now three races in with this arrangement and the results are not good. Muñoz has shown speed at times, but inconsistently. Conor Daly has been consistent – consistently slow. He has been at or near the bottom in most practice sessions this young season. Muñoz finished dead last at St. Petersburg, but had a decent showing at Long Beach where he finished seventh. Daly finished fifteenth at St. Petersburg and sixteenth at Long Beach.

At Barber this past weekend, it was pretty much more of the same for the eastern team of Daly and the western team of Muñoz. Daly qualified twentieth and finished eighteenth. Muñoz started sixteenth and finished seventeenth. During the race itself, things looked slightly promising at first. At one time, both drivers were running thirteenth and fourteenth. Daly himself even ran as high as twelfth at one point during the day. But a poor tire strategy did in Muñoz; and a botched final pit stop and then having to save fuel at the end was Daly’s undoing.

One thing to keep in mind; there is a learning curve here for the team and both drivers. Foyt has been a Honda team since 2006 and have been running the Honda aero kit for the last two seasons, but with different drivers. Both Muñoz and Daly ran Honda engines and aero kits last year, but for two different teams.

Now you have two drivers trying to get accustomed to their new teams, engines and aero kits; while the team is trying to learn the nuances of their new drivers as well as their new aero kits and engine. That’s a tall order for the best of teams under any situation. Put their two cars in two cities a thousand miles apart from each other and it’s an almost insurmountable situation.

Putting both cars under one roof doesn’t solve the problem, but it would help. I think the unfamiliarity with the engine, aero kits and personnel is the biggest problem. We saw this weekend that there was nothing wrong with the Chevy package – at least not at Barber. But I’d like to make this clear – the problem is not the drivers either. We know that Muñoz is a fast and capable driver and Conor Daly showed a lot of promise as a rookie. This many new pieces would take a lot of time to gel at one of the big teams; probably even longer with a small team like Foyt’s.

If you’ve been reading this site for any time at all, you know what an AJ Foyt fan I am. I want his team to succeed. I think Larry Foyt is a capable leader and has a better temperament than AJ, especially when it comes to patience and not demanding instant results. So please don’t think I take any kind of pleasure in writing about their shortcomings.

But everywhere they look, they have major hills to climb; whether it’s figuring out the power band of the engine, the fuel mapping, the aero kit or each other – not to mention the distance between the two sides of the team.

I understand the rationale of getting at least one team in Indianapolis. It might be time to forsake tradition and move the No.14 team to Indianapolis as well. Chip Ganassi hails from the Pittsburgh area; Michael Andretti is from Nazareth, PA and Roger Penske is from the Cleveland area. Yet all three set up their respective shops in markets where racing is big business and the area is flush with the industry’s talent.

If Larry Foyt truly wants to make his famous father’s team competitive again, he may have a tough decision to make. That decision could require him to shutter the family garage in Houston and commit to running the organization where almost all of their competitors are located – Indianapolis. They might even find it a lot easier to solve the mystery of the Chevy aero kit and engine from there. No offense to my friends that live in Houston, but they sure won’t find the answers there.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “A Tale Of Two Cities”

  1. Even if it’s the best for them, I don’t see it happening while AJ is still around.

  2. Software to hold team meetings over the internet is available and common these days so bridging the gap between Houston and Indianapolis doesn’t seem as quite the stretch anymore as your blog post makes it out to be.

    Also, the #4 did not score better or worse on average than the #41 did last year. This is a new team that still needs to gel. So it is no surprise that the #14 leads the way at this point for the Foyt organisation.

    Given the huge task of adapting to an unfamiliar aerokit and engine for a small team in a year when no other small team has switched engine partners, I view it as a big positive that the #14 has already scored a Top 10 finish.

    If the Houston team ever feels the need to move to Indy completely, this transition will be much smoother once the #4 will have started to beat the #14.

    I’d say it’s far too early to tell what kind of a season the Foyt organisation is going to have. But your guess is probably on the safe side when you say they are going to have a “Foyt-ish” season.
    Larry Foyt is probably well aware this season is only a kind of preparation for when the new aero kit comes along next year.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the #14 scores further Top 10 finishes this year.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    Two teams switched/traded engine & aero packages and hit the pavement (racing tracks) commencing in 2017.

    As we all are well aware……… Foyt from Honda to Chevrolet.

    While Ganassi from Chevrolet to Honda.

    Yet, it appears after just a couple races Ganassi has not missed a beat (aka RPM) coming up to its anticipated winning speed this past weekend with Dixon on podium.

    Agreeably, I speculate that lack of performance cannot be attributable to lack of driver talent.

    Perhaps the final race results may be more an indication of financial resources (Ganassi) and or lack of competitive financial resources (Foyt).

    And the podium results which occur when various components are available to a well financed team versus lacking in a conservatively financed team.

    • I had big hopes for Foyt Racing this year. Munoz has been fast whenever he strapped on a car for Andretti, and Daly has talent. Where they’ve always had trouble is finance and engineering, and unfortunately, splitting the team by a thousand miles isn’t going to help.

      Getting AJ to shutter his Houston operation though, IMO, ain’t gonna happen, or when it does, they’ll all be filing by the old man going, “Gee how natural he looks.” (AJ’s quote, not mine.)

      That said, with Phoenix this week and then the two Indy races, if they’re going to make a showing this year, we should see some signs of it by the 500 and everybody knows how much AJ values Indy.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    In the brief sample we have this year, the Foyt team hasn’t been any better than they were last year. They also really haven’t been any worse. Though the split shop probably doesn’t do them any favors, the host of other factors mentioned would seem to be bigger contributors to Foyt’s lack of improvement than having two different shops.

    Ganassi had different shops (both in Indianapolis) for the 9-10 cars and the 38/8-83 cars for several years. This did not seem to help the 38/8 or 83, but also had little effect on the success seen by the 9-10.

    Teams across racing have proven that they can win races away from the location of the bulk of the sport’s teams too. Penske (granted, usually an exception not a rule as a comparison) has had tremendous success out of Reading, PA and now Charlotte. Chicago has/had Coyne and Newman/Haas. Carl Russo won Champcar races with a shop in Denver, something Barney Visser does today in NASCAR.

    To be fair, of course, I’m from Houston…

  5. jpindycar Says:

    Not sure why, but when I saw the headline I thought this might be comprison of two actual cities and their embrace / or not of their IndyCar race. A good hard look at why Birmingham has been successful and say Nashville a disaster… discovering the secret sauce there would be a tremendous asset for the series going forward.

    • The crowd was not the problem at all with Nashville. In fact, the race was usually a sellout or very close to it. The facility only held 25,000. The problem was the local boneheaded GM of the track that had no clue that IndyCar was serious about raising the sanctioning fee after the 2008 race and the inept owners, Dover Motorsports. The track was terrible too. But the drivers always raved how well Nashville supported the race in its eight year run with IndyCar. – GP

  6. mynameisirl Says:

    I think the engine change has more to do with this than shop locations, but with 4 Penskes, 4 Andrettis, 3 Ganassis, plus Bourdais, Rahal, and Hinch – how much higher than 14th or 15th would you expect Foyt entries to be?

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