We’ve Been Down This Road Before

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How many times have we been duped by this in the past decade? The pattern is familiar; AJ Foyt Enterprises announces a big offseason hire, and we all jump to the conclusion that the final piece of the puzzle has finally been found to propel them to – well…not greatness, but at least to be on par with the other smaller budget teams in the NTT IndyCar Series.

We learned last week that well-respected race engineer Michael Cannon has been hired by the Foyt team to lead the engineering group on the team, and also serve as Santino Ferrucci’s race engineer on the No. 14.

Cannon brings a wealth of experience and credibility to the team owned by the living legend. He most recently was at Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport before that.

Immediately, the cheers rang out that it would be a new day at Foyt beginning this season. Forgive me for being just a tad bit skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before.

I was suckered in, prior to the beginning of the 2015 season, when it was announced that the team would finally be expanding to two cars, and driver Jack Hawksworth had been brought on board to team up with Takuma Sato, who had won Long Beach for Foyt just two seasons earlier. Hawksworth had impressed several people with his rookie season at Bryan Herta Autosport, when he scored a podium finish along with four other Top-Ten finishes.

The young Brit was considered a budding star of the future, when he signed on to pilot the new second fulltime Foyt entry. Hawksworth actually equaled his 2014 performance; finishing seventeenth in points, with five Top-Ten finishes. But in Year Two, it all went terribly wrong. Hawksworth finished twentieth among twenty fulltime cars – thirty-eight points behind the nineteenth place finisher, Max Chilton. Hawksworth was not retained at the end of the season, and just like that – his IndyCar career was over. He never drove in IndyCar again, after the 2016 finale at Sonoma.

Sato moved on to Andretti Autosport in 2017 and proceeded to win the Indianapolis 500, as well as finish eighth in the championship that season. Sato and Hawksworth were replaced by the capable duo of Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly.

Again, we all thought this was a formidable combination. Muñoz had proven himself fast, especially at Indianapolis; and Daly was considered a raw talent that wasn’t too far away from stardom. As before, it did not go well. Both drivers were one & done after finishing sixteenth and eighteenth in points, respectively. Muñoz drove in three races the following season, and we’ve never heard from him again.

Daly joined Sato as one of the few drivers to continue their IndyCar career after driving for Foyt. I’ve often said that the Foyt team is where careers go to die. Just ask Darren Manning, Vitor Meira or Matheus Leist, who replaced Daly in the No. 4 car. Have you heard from any of them lately?

I feared the worst for Tony Kanaan, when he signed to drive for Foyt. Here was a former IndyCar champion, Indianapolis 500 winner and fan favorite now being challenged to bring this team back from the doldrums. The best he could do in two fulltime seasons was fifteenth in points. With the famous No. 14 suffering sponsorship woes, three drivers shared time in that car in 2020 – Kanaan, Dalton Kellett and Sébastien Bourdais. The best finish for the car was Kanaan earning a tenth at the season-opener in Texas, and Bourdais finishing tenth at the season-finale at St. Petersburg.

By 2021, Kanaan was back at Ganassi running ovals only and Bourdais was in the No. 14 fulltime, alongside Dalton Kellett as his fulltime teammate. Although he had a couple of Top-Five finishes, it did not go well for Bourdais either. By last season, Bourdais was out and rookie Kyle Kirkwood was in the famous No. 14. He ran well is parts of races, but found the wall too may times – even for a rookie. Kirkwood and Kellett finished twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth in points, respectively; out of twenty-five fulltime cars. Ouch!

It’s been a tough road for the Foyt team, even before the reunification of 2008. While some may think I’m being negative, it gives me no pleasure in reciting these results. AJ Foyt was my favorite driver when I was growing up in the 60s, and I always pull for his team to do well, almost sixty years later. Nothing would make me happier than to see them run even mid-pack, much less up front.

But whether they have been celebrating new drivers like Hawksworth, Muñoz, Kanaan or Bourdais; or team personnel like Scott Harner or Michael Cannon – each year, everyone assumes they have finally put everything together for that breakout season. By every June or July, we realize that we’ve been duped again. It should be noted, that none of these annual proclamations come from the Foyt team itself. The excitement is generated by either fans, media or both.

So forgive my skepticism, but the preseason expectations for the Foyt team is growing a little tiresome. While I’m pleased with their offseason moves, both within the team and in the cockpit (Santino Ferrucci and Ben Pedersen), I’ll withhold any expectations whatsoever until I see what they do in the first half of the season. We’ve been down this road before.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “We’ve Been Down This Road Before”

  1. Davis Brewer Says:

    I share your skepticism, I have been kinder with my words about Foyt racing over the years as a halfway house where your career fades away. Foyt is selling box wine in a bottle is a bit of a gimmick to me. When ABC was sending AJ checks the hospitality game was on point at the races equal to other teams. I do not wish Foyt any ill will but it’s tiresome watching over the years as a lifelong fan. I thought someone would partner with the team this far down the road, I guess AJ wants no part in that team partner BS?

  2. billytheskink Says:

    No reason not to be skeptical until Foyt’s squad proves otherwise. That said, they do seem to be making an effort with hiring like Cannon and Ferrucci and I can applaud that at the very least.

    • Agree. Two great hires plus new team manager and six mechanics so maybe, just maybe. I still fail to understand the logic behind two shops and am sure that this is a hinderance rather than a positive.

  3. Joseph Mudrak Says:

    “Duped” requires intent.

  4. Well, the driver-engineer combination sure looks promising. Both have succeded in similar team situations before. Here is wishing them a successful season.

  5. well, maybe the required intent
    was a “self-dupication” of AJFE.

  6. another enjoyable blog post, George
    As usual, I have no idea to add.

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