NOTES & QUOTES: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
The 2021 NTT INDYCAR Series kicks off its 17-race season this weekend in the beautiful and aptly named Barber Motorsport Park outside of Birmingham, Alabama. AJ Foyt Racing is fielding the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet for four-time INDYCAR champion Sebastien Bourdais and the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet for rookie Dalton Kellett in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. With exactly 200 more INDYCAR races under his belt than his 27-year-old Canadian teammate, Bourdais will be entering his 209thINDYCAR event this weekend. Following are both drivers’ thoughts going into the race weekend. Team President Larry Foyt also shares his thoughts below.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS On:
The challenges of Barber Motorsport Park: “It’s a pretty complete track, a couple of really hard braking zones, at which you have to be very aggressive, and for the most part, being a motorcycle race track, it’s very flowing. The corners are very long and one leads to the next, so the balance of the car needs to be really quite good. You don’t have any hopes of carrying the car around because if the car is not under you, the corners are too long.” (What do you mean by that?) “The long radiuses tend to close on themselves like Turn 2 for example. You are in the corner for like 4 seconds which is a very long time in an Indy car. Then you have a lot of elevation changes with pretty quick entry speed, blind approaches and quick apexes. You have to be very much on your toes to get your timing right and there’s not much room for error. You drop a wheel off and you’ll probably hit something since there’s grass on either side.”
Barber being a very physical track: “It is and particularly this year since they repaved the track last year; the mechanical grip has gone up significantly. The wheel is very heavy and the G’s have gone up, naturally. It’s just around a 2 hour race so yes, it’s going to be physical.”
Winter Testing at Barber: “It was a very productive couple of days that we had over there. The first test we unloaded and we were a tiny bit off. We learned from it and we came back a bit stronger, and it looks like we are a force to be reckoned with. The conditions should be fairly similar to when we tested with temperatures between 50 and 70. Hopefully, if everything we learned holds true, we’ll have the same car and a strong weekend.”
The unique designs of the car and uniform: “It’s a nice art exercise and definitely a strong point into creating something different and cool. The general response has been great. It’s always nice to wheel a car that everybody thinks is good-looking.”
Managing expectations for 2021: “I think the only way to stay focused and not get carried away or distracted or put pressure, is just to tackle weekends one at a time. Just do the best we can on the individual weekend. I don’t think we have any real legit goals as far as championship goes. I know Larry has mentioned the top-10, but I think trying to set goals or any serious targets are not particularly productive. It’s very pressurizing for an organization to come out with clear expectations. I’ve never really functioned like that. All you can do is do your very best and give a hundred percent and then results come or not. Racing is quite cruel sometimes. You do your very best and hope it’s enough to provide some strong results. If you look at the entry list, there are really no weak combinations at all and there are a lot of very, very strong packages with experienced guys who’ve been with their respective teams for a while, and new combinations that are strong cars getting some very good drivers in them. The gaps are going to be ridiculously small and you’re going to have to bring your A-game to contend for good results. So that’s why I’m really trying not to think much about it. We’ll see how things shake out and hopefully it looks good for us.”
The challenges for a driver to race on three different types of circuits in three weeks: “It’s one of the specificities of INDYCAR and why I love it so much. You have to be able to switch modes, from ovals to streets to roads and be up to speed right away. The driving styles are drastically different. Aggressive and very engaged physically on streets and roads. Very smooth on ovals. When the car responds well and you feel comfortable and confident it's easy, but when the car isn’t there for you, things get quite tricky pretty fast.”
The compressed schedule of four races in 3 weeks: “It’s like we’re jumping straight into the thick of it -- like things would be in May and June for us. I believe mixing schedules and different formulas has helped me to gear up for that pretty well. It's always a bit more demanding to go back to back... but since I have gone as far as 8 weekends in a row, it should be fine. It also forces you not to stay trapped in the moment and move on, which is a good thing.”
Bourdais Fast Facts: Age 42…Born in LeMans, France…lives in St. Petersburg, Fla…Married to Claire, has two children, Emma and Alex…Ranks sixth on INDYCAR’s All-time Wins list with 37 victories and ranks seventh in career poles with 34…Ex-Formula One driver (2008-09)…Won 12 Hours of Sebring this year; has won Rolex 24 at Daytona overall (2014) and Petit LeMans…Finished second overall in 24 Hours of LeMans and won in the GTE class with Ford in 2016.
DALTON KELLETT On:
Barber Motorsport Park: “Barber is a fun, technical track. It really asks for a lot of commitment to be fast and you have to be precise, especially when the elevation changes affect the grip. Personally, I enjoy driving there, tracks that are fast and flowing are my favourite so it fits right in.”
Winter Testing at Barber: “Our off-season tests went well. I'm feeling more and more at home and we showed more pace relative to last year. I'm confident in our cars going into the season opener. I think we laid the ground work for a solid season of building from where we were last year.”
Cars: INDYCAR vs. INDY LIGHTS: “This track is quite a bit different in the Indy car than the Indy Lights car. The Indy car is obviously faster and has more grip overall, so the commitment level is higher. But on the other hand, the Lights' harder tires and lack of sophisticated dampers and third springs make it more of a handful in the tricky sections, like going downhill through Turns 8 and 9. Where you can really attack the curbs in the Indy car, you had to be a bit more careful with the Lights car because the suspension and tires just couldn't handle those inputs.”
INDYCAR 2.0: “My second season in INDYCAR is all about building from last year's experience and continuing to learn. Working with Seb will be great from a driving and technical standpoint. I have a great opportunity to learn from one of the best, so I will be taking advantage of that at every step. I'm looking forward to returning to the track with some experience behind me and a better handle on what to expect from the car. INDYCAR is so competitive right now, the series is in a great place, we've got an extremely talented pool of drivers. Every position on the grid will be fought for, so we will all be on our toes and pushing very hard.”
Challenge of racing on three different types of circuits in 3 weeks: “Racing on the road courses, street circuits, and ovals is one of the hallmarks of the NTT INDYCAR Series. As a driver, you have to be diverse and adaptable. Going from Barber to St. Pete, to Texas is a great example. Our first three races are each on a different type of track (and Texas is a doubleheader). At this point, I feel like I have the experience to know how to approach each type and it's just a question of taking some time between events to get in the mindset for the upcoming circuit.”
Kellett Fast Facts: Age 27…Born in Stouffville, Canada…lives in Indianapolis…Graduated from Queens University with a degree in Engineering Physics…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf.
LARRY FOYT On:
The challenges of racing on three different types of tracks in three weeks: “First off, I think it’s one of the beautiful parts of INDYCAR that you have these diverse sets of race tracks with different skill sets needed and you have different drivers that excel at different ones. It really makes the competition interesting and challenging. I think the drivers and engineers have the biggest challenge of getting the setups right despite the differences. The great part about INDYCAR is to win the championship, you have to do well on all of them. It’s even more of a challenge having these four races back-to-back; that’s taxing on everybody, especially starting the season and going three weekends in a row. Everybody’s ready for it, you know it’s coming, and it’ll be really interesting to see how everybody handles it.”
What is involved in changing over the cars: “From a road course to a street course, it’s not so much. Going from the road course to street course is a mere setup change. We typically have specialized cars for ovals so that’s a little bit more of a challenge going from a road or street course to an oval. When we go to the oval, we have a lot of parts and pieces to change, the obvious aero changes, different rear ends that are built to an oval spec that we use. Here is one instance that being able to work in our Texas shop between St. Pete and Fort Worth is a big help.”
Assessing the progress the team has made since last season: “We’re encouraged by the testing over the winter and had made some big gains especially on our permanent road course setups. Obviously, the weather will probably be a little different from when we tested so the engineers have to adjust for that. We feel like we can do really well these first couple races, we just want to make sure we do all our basics as a team from pitstops and things like that. It’s the stuff you’re supposed to do right but it’s very easy to get it wrong and make a mistake. That can be very costly with all these teams being as close as they are. We want to execute the weekend well so we can get the result and show the speed we think we have.”
Foyt Fast Facts: Age 44…Born in Houston, Texas…Lives in Hockley, Texas…Married to Kelly and has a son Larry, Jr….Before joining his father A.J.’s team in 2007 as director, Foyt drove in NASCAR’s Cup (2003), Xfinity (2001-2002) and Truck divisions (sporadically)…Made three Indy 500 starts…Since becoming President of the team (November, 2014), Foyt oversaw expansion to two car team (2015), established race shop in Indy in addition to Waller, Texas…Co-founded Foyt Family Wines (2008) with A.J. Foyt IV…opened Foyt Wine Vault in Speedway, Indiana (2015)…Is currently building a Foyt Winery in Fredericksburg, Texas (2021).
Past Performance at Barber: Sebastien Bourdais has finished in the top-10 five times in nine races with a best start of third in 2018 and a best finish of third in 2019. Dalton Kellett will be making his first start in an Indy car here; his best start and finish in Indy Lights is sixth. AJ Foyt Racing’s best start is fourth in 2012 with Mike Conway who also posted the team’s best finish of seventh.
NBC streaming and broadcast information: On Saturday, NBC's new streaming channel Peacock will stream practice from 11 - 11:45 a.m. and 2:40 - 3:25 p.m. Qualifying will be streamed live at 5:50 p.m. and a delayed broadcast airs on NBCSN at 10 p.m. On Sunday, the morning warmup will be streamed live at 11:30 a.m. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be broadcast on NBC starting at 3 p.m. All times are Eastern Daylight Time.