The Key Piece of the Puzzle

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Last Sunday Dave Furst, of WRTV-6, in Indianapolis sent out a tweet before Sunday’s race saying that Tony Kanaan had reached a verbal handshake agreement to drive the entire 2020 season for AJ Foyt Enterprises. Furst ended his tweet emphasizing that nothing had been signed.

Seeing that tweet made me glad, because I think Tony Kanaan is still very popular and we still need his presence in the NTT IndyCar Series. I also think that AJ Foyt’s team needs his presence as they once again go through yet another makeover. While I strongly believe that Kanaan can still drive and drive fast, I am realistic enough to know that no other team will give the 2004 IndyCar champion and the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner a shot at a full-time ride.

Kanaan will be forty-five on New Year’s Eve and not many teams are looking to build or rebuild their team around a driver in their mid-forties. But Foyt and Kanaan seem to really like each other and there’s a lot to be said for that – on both sides.

Tony Kanaan has driven for a lot of winning organizations – including Forsythe Racing, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing. Not only does he bring a winning pedigree to a team, but he has been involved with successful teams. One would think that he learned a thing or two on what a team needs to do in order to be successful. That’s what he brings to the table to AJ Foyt’s team.

The question is, will AJ and/or Larry Foyt listen? We know how stubborn AJ is, but what about Larry?

Since that tweet by Dave Furst on Sunday, we learned on Tuesday from Marshall Pruett at Racer.com, that AJ Foyt Enterprises has already parted ways with Eric Cowdin, Tony Kanaan’s longtime engineer.

Kanaan and Cowdin have been together since Kanaan and Helio Castroneves were driving for Steve Horne in Tasman Racing’s Indy Lights team in 1996-97. The two young Brazilians could barely speak English and at first, had no place to live – so they slept on the couches in the home of Tasman engineer Eric Cowdin. Cowdin and Kanaan spent the better part of the next two decades together, the only real time apart was in the late 2000s, when Cowdin left Kanaan and Andretti Autosport for Team Penske, when he was the engineer of the car for Ryan Briscoe.

By 2012, Cowdin and Kanaan were back together at KV Racing and Cowdin was on the pit stand in 2013 when Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500. When Kanaan moved to Ganassi in 2014, Cowdin followed. Eric Cowdin was not always on Kanaan’s car at Ganassi, but they were always in the same building. When Kanaan moved to Foyt for 2018, Cowdin followed.

At Foyt, not only was Cowdin the engineer for Kanaan – he was also the technical director for the entire team. It’s still not clear who initiated the split between Foyt and Cowdin, which apparently happened shortly after Sunday’s race – but I don’t see this as a positive development for the Foyt team. Pruett also reported that Travis Jacobsen, who had followed Cowdin from Ganassi and was serving as R&D engineer for Foyt had also parted ways with the team.

Racer.com also reported that Larry Foyt could make a change with the team’s general manager, which for now is George Klotz. Klotz is well thought of in IndyCar circles. He was hired away from Andretti Autosport in 2015 to change the fortunes at Foyt. Obviously, it hasn’t happened.

It was not clear on Tuesday if Kanaan’s handshake agreement to return in 2020 was done knowing these changes would be occurring. Maybe Kanaan and Cowdin thought a break apart might be good for both of them in the long run. Perhaps Foyt really liked Kanaan, but couldn’t get along with Cowdin. Foyt has been known to inflict his personal thoughts into the everyday running of the team. Maybe Foyt made some off-the-wall suggestion to Cowdin and Cowdin responded by telling the tempestuous Texan what he could do with his suggestion. I don’t know and that is anyone’s guess.

Maybe Cowdin had simply had enough of AJ’s meddling. It probably goes way deeper than that and we’ll probably never know the truth. But one thing is certain – once again, there are big changes coming to AJ Foyt Enterprises. This time, I’m not going to be sucked in and convince myself that they will do much better next season.

Most agree that Matheus Leist will not be back in the No. 4 car at Foyt. That would probably be merciful for both parties. But as they retool their staff and search for a new primary sponsor for the first time in fifteen years, I think they would be wise to make it a priority to maintain at least some continuity in all of this transition. They need to do whatever it takes to make sure that Tony Kanaan comes back.

Kanaan doesn’t need this. He has a beautiful wife in Lauren, and he has three sons and a young daughter. He is financially well off and he has plenty to keep him busy away from the track. But he wants to come back because he loves racing. If AJ Foyt Enterprises hopes to make any forward strides in 2020, it will not happen if Tony Kanaan is not involved.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “The Key Piece of the Puzzle”

  1. I really hope TK gets one more year to do a proper farewell tour. It has never sat well with me that Helio was just whisked away without so much as a goodbye. Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that he was a favorite of a lot of fans and also the unofficial face of the series for many years, he didn’t deserve to be ushered out like that and Penske’s excuse (he’s not retiring, he’s just racing somewhere else so he doesn’t need a farewell) did not hold water with me at all. I lost a bit of respect for RP over that.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Foyt is always rearranging deck chairs, so the latest round of offseason changes comes as little surprise.

    There is not a lot of reason to believe that Foyt or Kanaan can do better at this point, so I suppose it is up to TK whether he wants to run a full season or not. If he wants to go Indy-only, he might find a better ride in an extra car for a better team.

  3. Leist has done a pretty good job with the material he has been given. It would be interesting to see him back on another team, or even this team. I think his performance this year compared favorably to Jack Hawksworth’s season in the 2nd Foyt car.
    Also, I get the feeling that the Indianapolis team has now effectively taken over the #1 from the Waller, TX, team.
    Given the sponsorship situation, the team may or may not have full season rides available: we might see a rotation of drivers like Carlin had it this year.

  4. “rearranging the deck chairs” is a perfectly legitimate political strategy to divert or eliminate the ambitious and consolidate
    resources in the executive function. “top-down”. that’s A.J.

  5. If different (read; “much improved”) results are to be seen, it seems there should be no ‘sacred cows’ when analyzing the total structure/operations in rebuilding the team. Not everything needs to be thrown away certainly, but everything, top to bottom, needs to face strong and unbiased scrutiny so that only the best remains to be used going forward.

    Then again, maybe it has always been more a question of funding. Much like the oft-used quid pro-quo – Q: “How fast do you want to go?” A: “How much money do you have?”

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