Another IndyCar race, another struggle for 20-year-old Brazilian Matheus Leist whose 18 months in IndyCar racing has been stuck in a cycle: Promise. Joy. Disappointment. Heartbreak. Repeat.
Except … not this weekend! In Saturday’s sixth IndyCar GP on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the cycle was finally broken by the young A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet driver whose confident drive in challenging conditions from 21st to fourth was surely one of the day’s most impressive.
There was the familiar disappointment and heartbreak to be sure, but it came first in Friday practice and qualifying, Leist’s ABC Supply Chevrolet (like vastly more experienced teammate Tony Kanaan’s) resisting all efforts to find balance — the combination of turn-in, grip and straight-line speed so essential on the IMS road course.
There never seemed a prayer of either Foyt Chevy making the Fast 12, and in the end, Leist qualified an unhappy 21st out of 24 (and Kanaan 24th).
But in the race — promise and joy! While Kanaan was one of the first to switch to rain tires and paid the price by falling straight to the back and never recovering, Leist slithered around on slicks as long as possible, and when he finally did make the switch, he had inherited great track position. Indeed, following an eight-lap caution for track clean up, Leist found himself in entirely unfamiliar IndyCar territory: Third behind Scott Dixon and upstart Jack Harvey, and in sight of a podium finish.
“Today before the race I was like, ‘Man, today I want the rain to come so we might have a shot here,'” said Leist. “But I was probably the only one on the team who wanted it to rain, and when it started raining and I was restarting the race so far up, I knew we had a shot. I knew we could stay there and finish up there and that’s exactly what happened.”
Although passed with a half-dozen laps to go by a determined Pagenaud, Leist held ground from there, finishing a jubilant fourth.
“It’s an awesome place to have my best finish, and if you go back to 2017, here is where I had my first best finish in Indy Lights, too (winning the Freedom 100); so I think this place likes me at the same time that I like it.”
For Leist, whose best finish in 2019 prior to this was a 15th at Long Beach (where he collided with teammate Kanaan in the opening laps), fourth was almost as good as a victory and certainly a reward for his hard-working crew.
“About the race? It was just another tough one,” Leist explained. “We started 21st and it had been a pretty tough weekend here until the race. But the good thing about this team is that we never gave up and we always kept going, we always kept working hard and trying to improve as much as we could.
‘I’m just so glad for the team, for all the ABC Supply No. 4 Chevrolet crew — they did an amazing job in the pits and they all deserve it — and also for A.J. We’ve been together a year and a half now, pretty much, and I am always looking forward for these kind of results.
“Here [at the front] is where we belong and where we want to be. So let’s try to keep the momentum going and have a good one in the 500 too.”