Notes & Quotes: INDYCAR Classic
Team President LARRY FOYT opines on spending summers on Lake Travis, the challenges facing his team this season and racing at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). We asked him a few questions…
Q: The first race at COTA—what are you looking forward to?
LF: “It’s going to be great to drive to a race and not have to fly because it’s close to home. We have a lot of family and friends coming to the race, that’s always exciting. A lot of our team members’ families are coming so there’s a little bit of added pressure, not that there’s not enough of that already. It’ll be a lot of fun to be close to home; you always want to do well when you are close to home, but that type of track has been our Achilles heel the last couple of years. We were struggling with the new aero to find what the car wants at that type of track. The guys have been working really hard to find a new direction, so I think the cars are going to be starting a little differently as we try to narrow in on which way we need to go.”
Q: Is COTA similar to other tracks on the IndyCar schedule?
LF: “COTA is pretty smooth…maybe the Indy GP track would be the most similar. At the open test we weren’t great but we were encouraged by some things. Matheus did a great job finding a direction he wanted to go and Tony was running through a lot of big ticket items—meaning changes that took more time, so he was really running through a test list. I’m not really sure what he’s going to have there but we left feeling like Matheus was heading in the right direction. The thing with IndyCar right now is that the field is so tight that if you find two or three tenths (of a second), it really moves you up the grid.”
Q: What is the biggest challenge coming to a completely new track?
LF: “For us it’s still that type of circuit which has not been our strong suit. So our challenge is the same. It’s nice to come in on equal footing but everyone’s had the open test, everyone has data, everybody knows where their ride heights are, so it’s not too different from a normal race weekend. We’ll have to see how the track grips up, it looks like we could have some weather which will be very interesting. There are a lot of things that get thrown at you on an IndyCar weekend and the teams who adapt to it best are the ones who are up front at the end of the weekend.”
Q: Your parents have a house on Lake Travis, what are your memories of it?
LF: “I grew up there in the summers on Lake Travis, it was wonderful. I really miss it. I saw the house and I haven’t been there in two or three years because we get so busy and it’s a shame because I certainly do miss the lake house. I have a lot of great memories. It’s amazing how much everything around there has grown up. When I was a kid, it felt like your own private lake during the week days but now there are houses everywhere. It’s a beautiful area and I do miss hanging out there—it’s a shame work gets in the way.”
Q: What was your favorite thing to do there?
LF: “I grew up on stand-up jet skis. I’ve got a picture of my brother Jerry towing me with my skis tied together. His friends would help me get up and then they’d drop off and I’d keep skiing, so they said they could go straight till they ran out of lake. Shoot, I remember A.J. on the jet skis out there. He could ski better than people knew and he’d get out there and surprise people. Nobody had any idea. My favorite was the stand-up jet ski—I just loved it. I was never a big sit-down jet skier. My rookie year at Indy I met David Ecker who has been a friend and a supporter of our team ever since and he used to give me a boat. Even when I was living in Charlotte, I could have a boat. He has David’s Boat Center in Oklahoma City. He always offers A.J. or I a boat to use but we’re always so busy.”
Q: What is a ‘must see’ place for a first timer in Austin?
LF: “I don’t know because I used to just go to the lake, I didn’t even spend that much time in downtown Austin or down on Sixth Street. Ten years ago I’d probably be headed to Sixth Street but now I’ll be headed to bed.”
Q: What is the state of the team and your outlook for this year?
LF: “I’d say the whole team is definitely stronger, we added a lot of key pieces that I think are going to show as the season goes on. As far as overall pace, we’re still lacking. We’re just missing something that the engineers are really working hard to find -- that little bit that we’re missing. And you don’t have to be missing a lot, you just have to be missing a little bit but it definitely hurts. I still think our strength this year is going to be the ovals, and we’re working hard to figure out what we’re missing on these road circuits. We’re typically pretty quick at St. Pete so that race was disappointing to not show our typical pace there but we still believe in the direction we’re headed. We’ve got a lot of projects going on and we’re just trying to put it all together and get the best out of the whole package.”
Q: What ways are you addressing those challenges?
LF: “The track time is so limited that we’re still trying to maximize and learn to get the most out of our off-track tools. Whether that’s the shaker rig or the Chevy simulator, these are all things we can use off-track but we’re trying to make sure it correlates as best we can. It’s not easy and some guys have figured it out better than we have and that’s where we’re behind. We’re not giving up on that and we have to use every tool we can because when you find that little bit of grip, all of a sudden you pick up that two or three tenths and you are right there with everybody.”
Q: What are your thoughts on Matheus’s progress as a driver?
LF: “I think he really has matured as a driver. It’s a shame that he got caught up in that accident at St. Pete because it looked like he had a really good car. What we’re learning now is that he’s growing into his own driver so he knows what he wants out of the Indy car. I think what he and Tony want are a little bit different so we’re letting Matheus go down his own path and explore what he wants out of the car versus what Tony wants. I think you’ll see him come a long way this year.”
Q: You’ve been a race strategist since Vitor Meira drove for the team, but this year you’re off the stand. What was that adjustment like for you at St. Petersburg?
LF: “I didn’t know what to do with my hands (laughs). Seriously, looking back at last season, I had a really good feeling of what Matheus’s season was and what we needed to improve there because I was on his stand being his strategist. But I felt like I didn’t have a good feel of Tony’s season and I didn’t like that. I want to be able to step back because sometimes you can get so close to something that you’re missing the broader picture. So when Scott Harner came on board, I thought this is perfect. I’ll put him with Tony and George is down here in Texas with the Texas group so we’ll put him on the stand with Matheus which will let me step back and see things and get the big picture of how the team’s working. It was different for me, and I miss being on there but I can listen to both stands and I think it’s good to get the big picture.
“It’s interesting to listen to how both stands are working and what’s good or bad on both stands and what the teams look like. At the end of the day, we’re trying to get both teams to operate the same but we have the challenge of trying to do that out of different locations so it’s even a little bit more difficult than what the other teams are facing. Being able to observe both teams is good.”
Q: On social media there is chatter about comparing IndyCar and Formula 1 lap times. What are your thoughts?
LF: “You can’t compare the two series because they are completely different disciplines. Our cars have to be built to run ovals where their cars are made for extreme cornering and corner speed. It is different when we’re running a spec car built to withstand impacts at Indianapolis. And their cars are very safe as well but it’s just altogether different so I don’t think it’s comparable. I think what you have to look at is just how good the IndyCar racing is. It’s nice to go to a race and think pretty much any car has a chance to succeed and you cannot say that about F1. I think that’s why the IndyCar formula is really successful.”
TONY KANAAN on COTA: “We’re excited about going to our first IndyCar race at COTA. I got the chance to be one of the first drivers to do laps around the track last year for a tire test and was impressed with the layout and also the facilities, both in 2018 and also during the IndyCar Spring Training in 2019. The track has some unique corners and also some cool elevation that makes you work hard in the car. We are keeping our heads down and working hard to get the No. 14 ABC Supply car up where it belongs in the grid and I’m confident that we’re making progress. No better place to get it going than at Texas to make the boss happy.”
MATHEUS LEIST on COTA: “I’m so excited to race at COTA for the first time. The place reminds me so much of the tracks I used to race in Europe. It is wide, long and has big straights. The high speed section after T1 has to be one of the most exciting high speed sections of the calendar. I feel like the race is going to be a good show, and as the track is pretty wide I’d say the fans can expect lots of passes. It’s also a home race for our AJ Foyt Racing team and I’m more than enthusiastic to be around some close friends. The No. 4 ABC Supply Chevy crew will be working as hard as ever to bring a good result to our sponsor, fans and family. Looking forward to doing a great race weekend.”
Bluebonnets! The official flower of the Lone Star State is the bluebonnet, which is what A.J. Foyt planted this week on about 15 acres of ranch land he recently acquired. The bluebonnet, which can be enjoyed throughout Texas but especially in the environs of the Texas Hill Country, was declared the state flower in March 1901. The variety (there are five in types of lupines in Texas) around the Circuit of the Americas is Lupinus texensis, and it is this more robust variety that is synonymous with Texas (and the type A.J. planted). Peak flowering time is late March through mid-April, perfect time for that Instagram pic.
Texas bluebonnets like these will be blooming on A.J.'s ranch next year!
Last Race: At St. Petersburg, both Leist and Kanaan had difficulties in qualifying (Kanaan never got a lap in due to ill timing and two red flags in his session), so they started alongside each other on the 11th row. Leist’s race ended 25 laps in when he got caught up in Ed Jones’s bounce into the Turn 9 wall. Leist clipped Jones’s rear wheel which sent Leist into the wall further down the track. Kanaan’s race was hampered by a caution flag coming out when he was due to pit. He lost track position which he never was able to regain and finished 15th. He summed it up with two words, “Tough day.”
ABC Supply is in its 15th season as primary sponsor of A.J. Foyt’s IndyCar team, making it the longest running team sponsor in the NTT IndyCar Series. The company was founded in 1982 by Ken and Diane Hendricks with just three stores. The company now has over 700 stores and topped $10.5 billion in sales in 2018. ABC Supply began sponsoring the AJ Foyt Racing team with the 2005 Indianapolis 500. The company has leveraged its involvement by entertaining well over 110,000 associates and customers over the past 14 racing seasons. This weekend the company will entertain over 130 guests.
ABC Supply account Alden Roofing, located in Pflugerville, Texas, will be featured on the engine cover of the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet. Guests will receive the VIP treatment this weekend along with a Meet and Greet with Tony Kanaan.
L&W account Standard Drywall Inc., based in Del Valle, Texas, won the ‘Your Name Here’ contest. Each company name will be on the engine cover of the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet. Guests will receive the VIP treatment plus a Meet and Greet with Matheus “Matt” Leist.
The INDYCAR Classic will be televised live on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) on Sunday, March 24, starting at 1:00 pm ET. Qualifying will be broadcast live on NBCSN on Saturday starting at 3:00 pm ET. All of the practices will be available on NBC’s subscription-based service, INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. The annual price is $54.99. https://www.nbcsports.com/gold/indycar.
For more information on the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing program, please check our web site: ajfoytracing.com. To follow us on Twitter: @AJFoytRacing, @TonyKanaan, @MatheusLeist, @LarryFoyt14. On Instagram, @AJFoytRacing, @tkanaan, @matheusleist, @larryfoyt14. On facebook, we have the AJ Foyt Racing fan page.