Photo: John Cote/INDYCAR

2018 IndyCar Preview: AJ Foyt Racing

By Josh Farmer, Contributing Writer

With the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season rapidly approaching, Motorsports Tribune is previewing each of the teams competing on the tour. The site’s IndyCar staff will break each team down, laying out their results from the previous season while previewing the year to come for the organization and their driver(s).

Team: AJ Foyt Racing
Drivers: Matheus Leist, Tony Kanaan

What Happened Last Year: The 2017 season brought new beginnings for AJ Foyt Racing, as they switched to the Chevrolet engine and aero kit and acquired new drivers in Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz. The team struggled to adapt to the new package early but churned out some solid results late – including a fifth-place finish at Gateway with Daly.

But the results weren’t enough to salvage what ultimately became another lost season for Super Tex’s squad. Munoz ended the year just 16th in the standings, with Daly following in a disappointing 18th. That led the team to hit the reset button once again, drafting a pair of Brazilian drivers exhibiting youth and experience – Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist.

2018 Breakdown: With both a rookie and a veteran, it’s difficult to predict where Foyt will end up at season’s end.

The 43-year-old Kanaan joins the Waller, Texas-based squad after four years with Chip Ganassi Racing. He went winless for the third straight season last season, with a best finish of second at Texas Motor Speedway. The only other bright spots were a pair of top-fives in the 500-milers at Indianapolis and Pocono in an otherwise disappointing season that ended 10th in the standings.

With a clean slate ahead of him, there are high hopes for the 2004 IndyCar champion and Foyt in 2018. Engineer Eric Cowden, whom Kanaan won the 2004 series championship for Andretti Autosport and the 2013 Indianapolis 500 for KV Racing Technology, joins Kanaan at Foyt. The results of their labor were seen at the series’ mass test at ISM Raceway last month where Kanaan logged the third quickest lap of the weekend.

Leist is coming off a fourth-place finish in last year’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship. Driving for Carlin Racing, the 19-year-old Brazilian scored three wins (Indianapolis Oval, Road America and Iowa) and finished fourth in the championship.

The rookie’s IndyCar oval debut at the 1.02-mile oval proved to be an eventful baptism. The 2016 British Formula 3 champion paced the rookie test but scraped the wall a handful of times during the mass test. Despite the occasional mistake Leist managed to clock the 13th quickest time, making him the fastest member of the rookie contingent.

The new body kit could be the saving grace for Kanaan and Leist. The lower downforce package suits the driving style of the 17-time IndyCar race winner. With Codwin serving as his partner in crime, the team has the makings of greatness. Conversely, Leist has experience with the similarly designed Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 chassis. The youngster showed no reluctance as he adapted to the tracks in America – both on ovals and road courses.

AJ Foyt’s team appears suited for potential success. They’ll hope to make good on that promise, lest they be forced to hit the reset button once again.

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Josh Farmer joined the media center in 2012 after first discovering his love of IndyCar racing in 2004 at Auto Club Speedway. He has been an accredited member of the IndyCar media center since 2014 and also contributes to along with The Motorsports Tribune.