Wait ‘til Next Year!

It has almost become a rite of passage in the offseason, to look at the changes that have taken place at AJ Foyt Enterprise and proclaim them to be much improved for the upcoming season. That is followed by a similar ritual several months later, of saying that nothing has changed.

I have been duped many times over the years with the saying Wait ‘til next year, when it comes to the Foyt team. One of the most successful changes was when Vitor Meira joined the team, when he moved from Panther to Foyt in 2009. He was injured for the remainder of the 2009 season in a frightening crash in the Indianapolis 500, but the results in the three races prior looked relatively promising – especially a ninth at St. Petersburg to begin the season.

Meira’s 2010 season was very promising, compared to how low the bar had been set. He finished twelfth in points, not exactly where Foyt drivers are accustomed to finishing these days. This was the season that an excessively slow outside-front tire changer, cost him many spots after every pit stop in every race. Imagine how Meira might have performed, had his crew been able to execute pit stops better. Ultimately, Meira finished sixteenth the following season and his promising IndyCar career was suddenly over.

I will not chronicle every driver that has gone to Foyt, just in the last fifteen years or so in hopes of resurrecting or extending their careers, while they operated under the delusion that they would be good enough to bring the once-proud team out of its doldrums – but the list is long, so I’ll mention a few..

Takuma Sato brought the Foyt team their only win over the last twenty years – Long Beach in 2013. For the first time in forever, a Foyt driver led the championship entering the Month of May. It was nice while it lasted. Sato finished the championship that season seventeenth in points. That was followed by an eighteenth-place season one year later, Sato’s last with Foyt. Sato went on to notch five more wins post-Foyt, two in the Indianapolis 500.

Tony Kanaan joined the team after a one-year stint for Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly provided disastrous results. After Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais took his turn with the team.

That brings us up to this past season that started off with Kyle Kirkwood, Dalton Kellett and Tatiana Calderón in three different cars, with JR Hildebrand scheduled for the ovals in the Calderón car. With a lineup that consisted of two rookies and an unproven ride-buyer – I knew this would not be the best season for the team, but I had high hopes for Kirkwood. Instead, it was Calderón who was able to keep the car out of the fence each week.

When I was at Gateway back in August, I was hearing whispers that Dalton Kellett’s return was up in the air. I also got the sense that this would be the team’s decision more than Kellett’s.

A couple of weeks ago, Kellett released a vague statement announcing the two were parting ways. I’m still not sure exactly what happened. Either (a) Kellett’s father (who has been funding his ride) decided to pull the plug on Kellett’s career; or (b) Kellett’s father decided that if they are going to continue funding a career that has not been very successful to this point, it will be either with another team or another series or (c) Larry Foyt opted to pass on the money that comes with Kellett, perhaps deciding that the crash damage and additional hours the crew was having to work simply was not worth it.

Without falling into the trap of predicting vast improvement for next season, I do like the direction that Larry Foyt has the team headed. I think the hiring of Santino Ferrucci to drive the famous No. 14 is huge. When you see what Ferrucci has done in part-time roles for the past two seasons, I think it is good for him and good for the NTT IndyCar Series to have him back full-time. I also think his veteran abilities and demeanor will be good to pair with rookie Benjamin Pedersen, who has been signed to drive the second Foyt car (presumably No. 4)

Apparently, there will be no third car at Foyt this year – even for the Indianapolis 500, which I think works well for them. I think they had gotten a little ahead of themselves trying to run a third car last season. All indications from Larry Foyt are that they will not even run a one-off program at Indianapolis next year. With three cars and an association with DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports; things were spread way too thin in May. Next year, they will have their two fulltime drivers to focus on, and that’s it.

I’m curious and concerned about the disappointing performance by Kirkwood at Foyt. While at Gateway, I overheard some conversations (that’s blogger code-speak for eaves-dropping) suggesting that after Kirkwood crashed at Texas – he was afraid of crashing the car, from that point further. I don’t know if the actual crash spooked him, or if he dealt with the wrath of AJ afterwards. I kind of doubt that because, as I recall, that crash was not totally his fault. But the stats don’t lie.

Kirkwood finished twenty-fifth in points in 2022. The only full-time driver that finished lower than he did was Dalton Kellett, his teammate. Even Jack Harvey and Callum Illott finished ahead of Kirkwood, despite each of them missing a start due to injury. I’m not sure of the final tally, but after fourteen races – Kirkwood had crashed out of seven of them. A 50% crash rate is not what you want t see out of a rookie driver.

Still, we also saw some flashes of brilliance out of Kirkwood in 2022. I will be curious to see how he does next season with Andretti. It could be that Kirkwood got all of his training and crashes out of the way with Foyt, leaving AJ and Larry to pay for his crash damage. Michael Andretti may end up being the main beneficiary out of Kirkwood’s year with Foyt.

I don’t think we are being duped again by predicting an improvement year at Foyt in 2023. After all, when your cars finish last and next-to-last among all full-time drivers, there is only one direction they can go – up.

I don’t know a whole lot about Benjamin Pedersen, other than the fact he is Danish and that he finished fourth and fifth respectively in the last two seasons of Indy Lights. I understand the talent is there, but it is raw and needs refining – which describes most rookie drivers.

But I do know that Santino Ferrucci is the real deal. Some fans don’t care for him because of his prior sins in Formula 2 at Silverstone in 2018. That was five years ago, and I think he has matured a lot since then. Some find his brash demeanor a little off-putting, but I like it. I think that’s part of his charm. And in his brief driving career, he has results to back it up – except for a win.

Will Ferrucci find victory lane, while driving for Foyt? Probably not, but I think they can have significant improvement with Ferrucci in a leadership role for the first time. Previously, he has been the young understudy on a team. At the same time, Foyt has been going the route of experienced veterans in their forties for the past several seasons. For the first time since Carlos Muñoz, they are getting a veteran driver just entering his prime.

I hear that Larry Foyt is continuing to bolter the engineering staff at his famous (grand)father’s team. If he can do that, I think that coupled with their new driver lineup and staying focused on only two cars will pay dividends for 2023. Now, what will we be saying next July?

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Wait ‘til Next Year!”

  1. I agree having Sonny back in IndyCar is a plus for the series. I do root for the Foyt Team to do well every year but they remind me of Lucy holding the football for their current Charlie Brown . Charlie knows what is about to happen but what are his alternatives he has to try to kick the ball. I hope Sonny will have success with the Team next year but I know that Lucy is still holding the ball.

  2. I am a big Santino Ferrucci fan and wish him well for 2023. The team need one not two HQs and a better engineering team. Otherwise I see the results being as bad as this season unless SF can drag the car above its level and that will probably be on the ovals. Big shout out too to the team for hiring SF.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I expect the RocKit mess last year did Foyt’s already beleaguered squad and its inexperienced drivers no favors. Last year was probably the least-experienced and worst-funded team Foyt has run in some time, perhaps ever. And the results showed, the team backslid from their already low position. Even a more patient Kirkwood would probably have struggled to hit the top 20 in points given the situation.

    Ferrucci’s experience should help, Pederson’s funding and his speed vs. Kellett should help, some financial stability and new crew should help… but Foyt needs A LOT of help to move up the grid. Manning’s 2008 and Meira’s 2010 seasons are the only times since the split ended where the top Foyt driver finished ahead of even 1/3 of the full time drivers in the series. We’re more than a decade removed from those seasons now. Larry Foyt has a long long long row to how.

  4. I’ve always been a bit puzzled at the consistency they’ve managed to finish bottom half in points for so many years. Of course there are excellent teams in the top half, but with a 30-year head start on a MSR or Juncos (or McLaren), they seem to have been passed as if standing still. I hate to see it to be honest, and share that evergreen hope of an improved AJ Foyt Racing team each off-season. Sad to say, but I’ll be more surprised if they finish even one car in the top half next year. Come on Bezos, quit playing rocket-boy for 6 months and toss 25 mil A.J.’s way would ya?

  5. I don’t expect big things from Sonny or from Pedersen, but I would not be surprised if both cars secure a Leader’s Circle spot before going to Laguna Seca.

    The people who don’t like Santino think the same way as people who can’t stand Kyle Busch; one unsavory incident and he’s irredeemable. They hold the 2011 Hornaday crash against him, even though he hasn’t done anything remotely like that since. Conversely, I’ve tried to give Joey Logano the benefit of the doubt several times, and each time I do he pulls another antic. I’m not convinced that he’ll change.

  6. Thanks for blogging.🙂👍🏻

  7. James T Suel Says:

    I for one believe this is there best hire yet! I think it’s safe to say we will see big improvement!!

  8. I’m happy Santino is back full time. I like him. As far as expectations for improvement at Foyt….I can’t do it. I know there’s nowhere to go but up….but we’ve read this story too many times. Hey, Larry’s hard at work improving that engineering staff everyone!!!! Anyway, I wish them well.

  9. Ferruci most likely will perform better in the #14 over a whole season than Munoz has done. He is a good fit for the team. The rest will depend on the tire changers, strategy, spotters and the damper program. Ferruci has been team leader before, in his 2nd season at Coyne when his teammate was Alex Palou.

    Do you have any idea what Matheus Leist is doing these days?

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