I Hope I’m Wrong on This

Longtime followers of this site know what I think about AJ Foyt. He was my favorite driver as I attended many Indianapolis 500s of the mid-to-late sixties. As a freshman in college, I screamed in celebration to no one as I listened in solitude to the radio broadcast of Foyt’s fourth Indianapolis 500 win in 1977. I was there for his final race in 1992 and I was also onsite when Foyt said goodbye in 1993, just before Pole Day qualifying. To this day, he is still my all-time favorite driver and you will never convince me that there was anyone better than him. Ever.

Longtime readers of this site also know that I am not blinded by loyalty when it comes to Foyt’s team, which is still a fixture in the IndyCar paddock after all these years. I will always pull for them for sentimental reasons, but this team has been the epitome of lovable losers for decades.

It’s really a shame. I’m old enough to remember Foyt in his prime and I still equate his name with winning races and championships. Younger fans have no such memories. They’ve heard the stories and seen the videos, but all they’ve seen for themselves is a team with a grumpy owner that usually finishes far back in the pack. It’s sort of like some football fan trying to convince me that Red Grange (from the 1920s) is the greatest football player ever. All I have to go on is some grainy footage of what appears to be a very slow running back going against slower opposition. It’s hard for me to relate to Grange, and I’m sure it’s hard for younger fans to believe how great Foyt was in his day, based on what they see out of his team.

It seems that about every three years or so, AJ Foyt Enterprises will hire either a well known up and coming driver or a respected engineer; and we all are suddenly convinced that this will turn out to be the one missing ingredient that has been preventing this team from success. By about the fourth or fifth race of the season, we all realized we were duped and the results never changed.

That’s why I was surprised to see that Robin Miller write such a glowing article on Foyt’s latest signing – four-time IndyCar champion Sébastien Bourdais.

There isn’t much that Robin Miller writes that I disagree with. Many times, he will say something is going to happen and he gets laughed at for predicting such crazy things. But more times than not, those crazy things come true and he gets the last laugh. Case in point…in 2009, Robin Miller told everyone that IMS owner and IndyCar CEO was going to be ousted by his sisters in a family squabble over the family fortune. Miller was ridiculed for publicizing such nonsense. People said he was desperate and no longer significant or relevant in IndyCar circles. Two weeks later, that exact situation unfolded before our very eyes. Unfortunately, no one gave Miller credit for being the first and only to break the story.

So instead of blatantly coming out to say Robin Miller is wrong to say that Bourdais may be the missing piece to Foyt’s puzzle, let’s just say I’m skeptical.

I’ve always said that AJ Foyt Racing is where careers go to die. There has been a long list of drivers in the past thirty years that saw their careers end up at Foyt. It’s a much shorter list of drivers that drove in IndyCar for anyone else. Some of the more recent casualties include Darren Manning, Jack Hawksworth, Jeff Bucknam, Vitor Meira, Jaques Lazier, Carlos Muñoz and Matheus Leist. It is yet to be seen if Tony Kanaan will ever drive again after a partial schedule with Foyt this season. Even the great Al Unser, Jr. saw his illustrious IndyCar career come to an end in a Foyt car.

Those lucky enough to find success after driving a Foyt car are few and far between. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato both found success after their stints at Foyt. Hunter-Reay won the IndyCar championship in 2012 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. Mike Conway won three IndyCar races after leaving Foyt just before the end of the 2012 season. After a year at Foyt in 2017, Conor Daly’s career is improving, but he has still not found fulltime employment with the same team for three seasons since then.

I became optimistic when the reins were turned over to AJ’s son, Larry Foyt a few years ago, but still – the results have not changed. Since most of the CART teams came back over in 2003, AJ Foyt Enterprises has won once – a surprising Long Beach victory in 2013 with Takuma Sato at the wheel. Since leaving Foyt after the 2016 season, Sato has won the Indianapolis 500 twice and three other races, along with five more podium finishes. Since that Long Beach win, AJ Foyt Racing has had only one podium that wasn’t earned by Sato – a third by Kanaan at Gateway in 2019.

The one time Bourdais sat in a Foyt car, he led testing at COTA back in February, just before the pandemic hit. Supposedly, he and engineer Mike Colliver really hit it off. Bourdais will now be in the famous No. 14 for the remaining races of this season and all of the 2021 season and magic is now expected at Foyt’s team.

I’m sorry, but I’ve seen this movie before and the ending never changes. Too many times, I’ve written about how the latest signing by Larry Foyt is going to be a game-changer, and I’ve been wrong every time. I was certain Jack Hawksworth was going to be a difference maker. They convinced me that the pairing of Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly was going to reverse the fortunes of the team. I knew that Tony Kanaan’s savvy driving and veteran leadership was going to turn things around. None of them ever happened.

For the sake of Bourdais, I hope I’m wrong and Robin Miller is right. I would also like to be wrong for Foyt’s sake. I take no pleasure in going over the many failures of the team, but I have no reason to think that Sébastien Bourdais is going to be any more of a difference maker than anyone else. I hope I’m wrong on this. I also hope that this time next year, we are talking about what a turnaround Bourdais has led at AJ Foyt’s team. I’ll believe it when I see it.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “I Hope I’m Wrong on This”

  1. I think I’ll make a stronger assessment after maybe the Harvest GP doubleheader. Hopefully a strong top 10 or 15 showing would be a good start for the team. Also finishing on the lead lap. I think Bourdais is a great driver. Just hope he doesn’t just fade away with his results.

  2. Bruce Waine Says:

    Within the past year I read that there are several types of drivers.

    Boiling it down to those who simply drive a car and those who are methodical in their approach and understand what is needed in the set-up and understand the car……. or at least something to that effect.

    It was mentioned the Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay are two such examples and that their teams need that type of knowledgeable driver to help the team’s other drivers.

    Evidently, Sebastien is in the league of both Simon and Ryan.

    We all understand that financial support allows a team to reach the winner’s circle. It is a primary part of the puzzle understanding that there are other puzzle pieces (variables) that are out of the control of any team.

    Indeed, it will be interesting to learn what Sebastien is able to achieve given the resources that a Foyt Team is currently able to provide to him.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    “Highly competitive, a self-mechanic, he’s a controversial man
    Tough-talkin’, a self-designer, and a friend to all the fans
    He’s soon to be the only 4-year Indy-winnin’ man
    A bear-huntin’, a genius mind, and a family lovin’ man

    He’s a race-drivin’ two-fisted Texas man
    He’s number one, all across the land
    He’s a race-drivin’ two-fisted Texas man
    A mean machine, a Coyote scream!!!”

    My point? That Bourdais will do more for Foyt than Dennis Agajanian did with the song “Two-Fisted Texas Man”. Sato’s frequent (but inconsistent) and competitive speed at Foyt is a good benchmark for Sebastien. Takuma took 3 poles and 3 podiums during his time there, and threatened to take more of both. If Bourdais is in the conversation for either next season, that’s a good step for Foyt.

  4. If I remember correctly, technically Johnny Rutherford’s final competitive laps in an IndyCar were in a Foyt backup, in a last ditch, desperate attempt to qualify for one more 500. That run ended with a fairly spectacular engine failure at about the green flag atthe starting line.

  5. This is reunification coming full circle: the 4-time Champ Car Champion who excels on road and street courses driving for the team of the 4-time Indy 500 winner who always would side with oval racing. Both fan favourites. Both have history at and good memories of Le Mans in one way or another. This looks like a really good fit. Also, taking into account that Bourdais won for both KV and Coyne makes it seem likely he can do the same for Foyt.
    All the best and lots of success to the whole team. Now practise pit stops already! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: