By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A.J. Foyt Racing announced Tuesday that Canadian Dalton Kellett will compete full-time in the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series, replacing Charlie Kimball in the No. 4 Chevrolet.
Kellett was a part of the three-driver rotation in the No. 14 Chevrolet last season, making 8 of 14 starts. However, the former Indy Lights mainstay finished no better than 20th twice (both at Road America) which has left fans scratching their heads as to why the team went with him over Kimball, who scored two top-10 finishes?
Team president Larry Foyt said by replacing Kimball in favor of Kellett will give him a shot of growing as a racer after COVID-19 altered the entire sport’s approach to a race weekend.
Despite the setback, Foyt felt Kellett was serviceable enough to get a full-time gig and is looking forward of seeing what kind of feedback he provides on a regular basis.
“The goal was to get him full-time, but 2020 was even tougher for him than we expected it to be being a rookie with limited track time and having to deal with shorter race weekends, but he really rose to the challenge,” said Foyt during the video conference.
“I think he impressed a lot of people and we were just happy we were able to get him full-time.”
This past season, Foyt concentrated on the No. 4 team, thus wasn’t as aware of what type of driver Kellett is from a communications point of view because he was driving both the No. 14 and No. 41 car.
Despite parting ways with Kimball, Foyt hopes he lands a ride in 2021 as both split up on good terms.
“I know he’s looking at some opportunities, so we’ll just have to see where that falls. But great driver, and I’m sure he’ll land somewhere, and we’ll just have to see what happens,” said Foyt.
“Everything ended on really good terms, and he understood what we were doing, but enjoyed the year with him for sure,” Foyt concluded.
Another driver tossed around the rumor mill was the now ex-Formula 1 veteran Romain Grosjean, who is currently recovering from his violent crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago.
Foyt debunked the rumor by saying that other than a greetings chat, Grosjean wasn’t considered of joining the race team.
“There wasn’t a conversation there to be honest other than, you know, kind of a “Hi, how are you,” nice-to-meet-you thing,” said Foyt on the Grosjean rumors.
“I think we kind of knew what way we were going with Dalton from the beginning. It was kind of in the plan of doing a part-time, getting him some seat time and then working up to the full deal.
Foyt looked for other people’s input. Most notably, former IndyCar driver Darren Manning, who in his eyes played an instrumental role on the decision-making process.
“Darren works a lot with Dalton. He’s obviously a good friend of mine and I really trust and respect his opinion, so before we even put Dalton in a car, I spoke with Darren a lot about how Dalton drives and things like that,” Foyt commented.
“So this has kind of been the plan, so this will be a really good chance for Dalton to get a full year, get more comfortable, get more seat time and then we can really see what he can do.”
Tuesday’s announcement also meant Kellett will be paired up with four-time Indy car racing champion Sebastien Bourdais, who’ll be back full-time after spending the past season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, scoring three overall podiums.
Having him as a teammate intrigued the 27-year-old, who knows the entire race team are looking to make vital improvements as they haven’t been on pace to compete for wins on a regular basis.
Following the October test at Barber Motorsports Park, Kellett picked up some things from Bourdais that’ll help him blossom to become a driver that’ll deliver much greater results.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him,” Kellett on Bourdais. “Seeing how he works with the engineers and how exacting he is with his feedback and what he wants out of the car was pretty eye-opening.
“It was tough as a rookie with limited track time. Going into next year, just capitalizing on the increased amount of testing and the closer to full-length weekends that we’re going to have is going to be really important, and that’s going be to the goal to kind of hit the ground with — hit the ground running.”
While it’s going to be tough being with a “very analytical and demanding” teammate, Kellett knows their driving styles will be relatively complementary towards each other which is why he sees Bourdais will be a great asset to Foyt’s camp.
“From the direction of where the setup is going, I think that’s going to be pretty consistent and helpful for both of us to have like a plan that we are kind of working towards,” said Kellett.
“I think we obviously have to continue working there and making sure that stops are quick and all that, but they were great last year. Even on the 41 car, which was a third-car crew, that can always be hard to put that together for the month of May, but we had a great crew there. So continuing with that with practice and everything.
“And then for my side of it, like I said, putting everything together and just extracting the potential that we have in myself and the car and kind of putting our best foot forward.”
Speaking of a third car for the Indianapolis 500, time will tell if Foyt will enter an extra entry like he’s done in previous years.
“We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do with our third car at Indy yet,” said Foyt. “Don’t know for certain, but we will see.”
The season opener is scheduled to commence at St. Petersburg on March 7, 2021. Kellett will make his first start at the Florida street circuit while Bourdais hopes to validate his fourth-place finish with a third track triumph.