Few full-time NTT IndyCar Series’ entrants have faced greater challenges in mapping out its season than AJ Foyt Racing.
With the No. 14 Chevy scheduled to carry three drivers during the original 17-race season established from March through September, Sebastien Bourdais was meant to take the first three rounds, then team veteran Tony Kanaan and newcomer Dalton Kellett would share the remainder of the year, barring Portland, where Bourdais was set to complete his fourth race with the team.
In light of the compressed calendar that now runs from June 6 at Texas through October 25 at St. Petersburg, team president Larry Foyt expects to fill the No. 14 with Kanaan and Kellett for most rounds, with Bourdais getting a few shots later in the year. Charlie Kimball, also new to the team, is the only headache-free entry to consider as the No. 4 Chevy will bear his name at every race.
“On the back end, I’m glad they added St. Pete; that was one of Bourdais’s races,’ Foyt said. “Hopefully we’ll have him in for that one, and he was scheduled to do Portland. So I think, barring any major schedule changes from here on out, we can at least get him a couple races. And other than that, we’re rolling into Texas. Kimball runs well there, has a lot of experience. And of course, Tony’s great there. So that’s really good that at least we get to start with some good experience on that race weekend.”
After the season opens on the Texas oval, the series heads to its first road race at Road America on June 21, then makes its long-awaited return to Richmond’s short oval on June 27, and shifts gears again as IndyCar hits the Indianapolis road course on July 4. After Richmond, it’s off to the Iowa oval for a July 17-18 doubleheader, and the Mid-Ohio road course follows on August 9 prior to practice commencing for the Indy 500.
The jumbled calendar shouldn’t affect the No. 14 car on the ovals with 2013 Indy 500 winner Kanaan at the controls. But on the road courses, where Bourdais’ early-season chassis setup skills were meant to point the operation in the right direction after struggling mightily in 2019, the shuffled dates have derailed the Frenchman’s ability to provide a boost for Kellett.
“Our situation is really tough on that end; we wanted to get Sebastien some races early in the season to really just see where we were with some of our road course setups and have Dalton around there,” Foyt said. “That was really helpful [in testing] at COTA and Sebring. I think it was nice for a rookie to be able to step in the car that a guy like Bourdais says, ‘OK, this car is pretty good. Just work on your driving. Learn how to drive this car.’ So from that aspect, that plan was going well.”
With four drivers, two cars, and three of those drivers mingling in the same entry, Foyt has plenty to consider once the season gets under way. Based on the significant rise in competitiveness shown in pre-season testing, he’d like to get through the year and maintain continuity into 2021.
“We’d love to have [Bourdais] full time,” he said. “Excited to see how Dalton comes along and definitely don’t want that just to be a one-year deal. I think he’s going to have a good career ahead of him, so we’d like to keep him. And hey, you know TK. I mean, is he really going to retire? Who knows? I know he says he is, but we never know. And Charlie has been great to work with too. It is wide open.”
As the team forges ahead with new primary sponsors, new associate sponsors, and the partners who’ve returned for 2020, Foyt says planning for the future with specific drivers is only made possible through a solid budgetary foundation.
“Obviously in our situation, a lot of it will come down to funding,” he added. “I know sometimes fans don’t understand that, but even for a guy like A.J. who has been super successful, running an IndyCar team out of your pocket, it goes away really quickly. And he’s always taught me that. He’s like, ‘If something happens to me and you don’t have the sponsorship, you have to shut this down because I’ve seen too many older drivers that I raced with, they had a little money, and they tried to do this. And it just goes so fast.’
“So obviously you have to see where the money is. We’re working with some great drivers right now, and we’ll just see what happens. But 2021 feels like a ways off. It’ll be here before we know it, and we have beefed up our marketing group just a little bit more to start understanding possibly where some opportunities are going to lie in this post-lockdown situation, what the world’s going to be like.”