MILLER: Can Foyt find its way out of the shadows?

Image by Galstad/LAT

MILLER: Can Foyt find its way out of the shadows?


MILLER: Can Foyt find its way out of the shadows?


It was painful to watch A.J. Foyt’s team slog along in 2019, qualifying in the back and running mid-pack or worse at most races. Tony Kanaan’s average starting spot was 20th and the 2013 Indy 500 winner ranked 15th in the final point standings, while teammate Mattheus Leist was 19th and last among the full-timers in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Super Tex got so disgusted he quit coming to races after Toronto, and longtime sponsor ABC Supply announced it would only back the No.14 car at Indianapolis in 2020.

For a team steeped in tradition whose owner is a paddock icon and whose veteran driver remains a fan favorite, it wasn’t good for IndyCar. And the fear was that Super Tex might either cut back to one car, or simply close the doors.

But thankfully, the irascible 83-year-old is coming back in 2020, fielding two cars, is likely keeping T.K. for his farewell tour, and is looking for the next Colton Herta.

“Look, we sucked and it couldn’t be much worse, but I’m not going anywhere,” said Foyt from one of his Texas ranches over the weekend. “Hell, this is my life and it’s Larry’s (Foyt) life, and we just have to find a couple of good people to help turn this thing around. And I want to get a young driver that’s hungry like I was.”

The misnomer is that Foyt isn’t modern enough in his approach, or doesn’t spend money in the right places.

“We had a shock engineer last two years; we did more shaker rig testing in the past two years than we did in the last 10,” said team president Larry Foyt. “It makes a big difference whether you start 10th or 17th with today’s competition, and I don’t feel like T.K. is a 17th-place driver.

“Some of the drivers I’ve spoken to say they see our cars are mechanically good and don’t break, but we’re just missing a couple tenths. We just need the right driver and engineer combination.”

Although nothing is official yet, it looks like T.K. will be back for a third year with A.J.

“It’s not done yet, but I’m not concerned because we have an agreement and we’re going to do this together,” said the 45-year-old Brazilian, whose 22nd season of IndyCar will be his last. “I’d love to do a full season if we can make it happen, and I’ve got a couple things, and I think A.J. has a couple things.

“They let my engineer Eric (Cowdin) go so we’ve got to find a new one, and I don’t want to go out running like we did last year.”

With his obvious popularity and affection for the fans, T.K. deserves a farewell tour and already has longtime personal sponsors Bryant Heating & Cooling, 7/Eleven and NTT Data on board, but still needs more money to help the team.

Kanaan delivered the team’s 2019 highlight moment with a podium at Gateway, and looks like he might return next year for a farewell season. Image by Levitt/LAT

The identity of his teammate remains to be seen, and Larry echoes A.J.’s sentiments about finding a good combo.

“It’s a lot of chicken and egg with engineers and drivers,” he said. “The engineers ask who is my driver, and of course the driver wants to know who is my engineer? There are some good young guys out there, but we still need some funding.”

Three weeks ago A.J. wondered who was available, so I sent him this list:

OLIVER ASKEW: The 2019 Lights champion impressed Ganassi’s group last summer with his IndyCar test at Portland, and he’s won at every level. He’s also very bright and understands a chassis. Very well-spoken, and a sponsor’s dream.

AARON TELITZ: A 28-year-old from Wisconsin who was Pro Mazda champion in 2016 and has won Indy Lights races the past two years despite racing as a part-timer because he has no money. He drives a sports car for Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan and they want to test him in an IndyCar, but they don’t have the money to run him. He’s a great kid and plenty savvy.

SAGE KARAM: Dario Franchitti said if anybody ever gives this kid a chance, he’ll be a winner. Ganassi only ran him one year and he was fast on ovals. Still only 24 years old, he’s a former Lights and F2000 champion.

CONOR DALY: Foyt should have kept him because he’s shown he’s a good racer and knows how to set up a car and drive it to the front.

CHARLIE KIMBALL: The 34-year-old veteran always runs well at Indianapolis and always manages to find good sponsors.

ED JONES: Tough to get a read on this one because the former Lights champion had a great rookie run with Coyne, then got rewarded with a Ganassi ride but it didn’t pan out and he was hit and miss with ECR this past season. But he’s got ability and his family has money.

R.C. ENERSON: Has shown flashes of talent in only four IndyCar starts in past three years for Coyne (qualified 10th at Mid-Ohio in his debut).

J.R. HILDEBRAND: Always fast at Indianapolis and is very, very sharp technically (he lectures at Stanford University on vehicle dynamics and had a full ride to Massachusetts Institute of Technology but choose to pursue racing). He won USF2000 and Lights championships, and was one turn away from winning Indy in 2011. He’s 31 years old and has been an Indy-only driver the past three Mays.

RINUS VEEKAY: Only 19, runner-up in Lights championship this year with six wins. Won the Asian F3 title last winter and won the Mazda championship in 2018. He’s got Jumbo Foods as his sponsor and they’re a good one. Ed Carpenter has been all over him to drive Ed Jones car in 2020 but the kid wants to run the full season – not just road races and Indy.

JAMES DAVISON: The 33-year-old Aussie had a great run at Indy for Dale Coyne in 2017 (last to first before a bad pit stop) and he’s plenty brave. Ran two USAC Silver Crown races this past summer and did very well. Drove a Foyt car for David Byrd in 2018.

PATO O’WARD: The perfect Foyt driver – fast, cocky, aggressive, hates to run second and talented as hell – but he’s likely going to be snatched up by McLaren if Red Bull lets him go.

Might Telitz be one of the possible keys to a Foyt turnaround? Image by Levitt/LAT

Foyt Racing’s last victory came in 2013 at Long Beach with Takuma Sato and it would be nice to see an Askew, Karam or Telitz make a home with IndyCar’s all-time winner and put a smile on the old grump’s face again.

It’s going to take an aggressive shock program, a top engineer that’s got a free hand and some much-needed chemistry. It’s not going to be easy with one team in Houston and the other in Indianapolis, and some of the 1970s mentality still lingering.

Replacing ABC won’t be easy either, and finding a front-line engineer at this late date is also going to be a challenge. But Foyt is synonymous with IndyCar history and something very valuable is missing when he’s not at the track. It could and should still be an honor to work for him.

“We’re not giving up, we’re going after it,” said Larry Foyt.

I realize Harding/Steinbrenner feasted on Andretti engineering, but it was still a small team with a shaky budget whose crew got stronger and more efficient around their young prodigy. So if they, along with Coyne, can run up front because of young talents supported by savvy engineers, there’s no reason that A.J. and Larry can’t copy their blueprint. The sooner the better for IndyCar.