Photo: Bret Kelley/INDYCAR

DeHarde: Is 2017 the Year for an A.J. Foyt Racing Renaissance?

By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer

2015 and 2016 haven’t been the best of years for A.J. Foyt’s team. The Texas-based squad with drivers Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth have had less than ideal results, with Sato having three top five finishes over the last two seasons while Hawksworth’s best finishes were a pair of sevenths at Detroit last year.

The team has decided to make some changes after this past season. They will be switching to Chevrolet in 2017 following the announcement that Chip Ganassi Racing will be moving to Honda, so one major piece of the puzzle has been cemented for next year. However, with Honda leaving, Sato’s big reason to stay with the team is gone as well, as the Japanese driver has had Honda engines behind him for almost as long as he’s been racing, all the way down to Formula 3, with one of the exceptions being his time in Formula E.

Hawksworth more than likely won’t be back for 2017 after having two seasons that did not meet his or the team’s expectations following a breakout 2014 campaign for Bryan Herta Autosport.

So in order for the team to go up the grid, what needs to happen?  Let’s propose some changes that might help get the racing legend’s team back to Victory Lane.

  1. Move the team to Indianapolis

Let’s face it, some people will argue that Dale Coyne and Roger Penske have teams outside of Indianapolis so A.J. Foyt Racing should be fine outside of it as well, and that’s fair to argue.  However, Penske is one of the top-rated teams in all of motorsport and Coyne had flashes of brilliance this year and signed some powerhouse engineers in the offseason while Foyt’s team only had glimmers of brilliance during practice and a few qualifying sessions before having less than stellar race performances. Moving the team to the IndyCar capital of the world will give the team a better shot at attracting newer and better engineering talent that can give their drivers the best setups and chances to win.

  1. Sign a young driver and a seasoned veteran for a two car squad

Many names have been thrown around for Foyt’s team, including Carlos Munoz, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sage Karam and Conor Daly.  The team is planning on having two cars next season and having a mix of youth and experience would give the team two different knowledge bases from which to gain information.

The biggest front runner for one of the two seats is Carlos Munoz.  Munoz would fulfill both a seasoned veteran role with three seasons under his belt and a youthful role given that he’s only 24 years old.  However, I honestly don’t see Munoz as someone Foyt would go after. Then again, Foyt did sign Sato and have him on the team for the past four seasons.

The two drivers that would be awesome fits for the team are Montoya and Karam.  Montoya has two Indianapolis 500 victories, one with both of the top teams in Indy car racing and has been in the upper tiers of competitive open wheel racing since F3000 in 1997. Montoya has a lot of experience in several different kinds of cars and would be an enormous benefit to Foyt’s team should they decide to sign him.

For the youthful half of the equation, Karam would be a near perfect fit.  With an aggressive on-track presence backed up with a solid Mazda Road to Indy background after winning a USF2000 championship in 2010 and an Indy Lights crown in 2013, the Nazareth, PA native had a few errors in 2015 but also ran near the front in several races, notably at Fontana and Pocono.

While Daly would also be a great pick for Foyt’s team, Daly had a good season at Dale Coyne Racing and after Coyne brought in some engineering heavy hitters, that team will be one to watch next season.

  1. Pursue an Indy Lights program

A couple of IndyCar teams have programs in the Mazda Road to Indy. Andretti Autosport at one time had cars across all of the MRTI series while Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has had a top notch Indy Lights program for several years now. An Indy Lights program would help the team not only develop drivers, but also develop engineers in-house and that could be a double benefit if the team is relocated to Indianapolis.

These three suggestions might not be a cure-all solution for the team, but it would be an interesting path for the team to traverse if they were looking at all avenues on how to better their performance.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.

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