INDIANAPOLIS — AJ Foyt Racing announced on Tuesday that Dalton Kellett will drive the second entry for them during the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season. Kellett, will drive the No. 4 Chevrolet while joining Sebastien Bourdais within the organization with the Frenchman taking over the reigns of the No. 14 Chevrolet.
This will be the third straight season that they’ll feature two different full time drivers and the fifth in the last six years. Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist drove the 14 and 4 cars respectively in 2019. They were both there also in 2018 after taking over for Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly who they replaced Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth from 2016 and 2017. Last year it was Kanaan/Kellett/Bourdais in the 14 and Charlie Kimball in the 4. Now, it’s Bourdais and Kellett in the two entries.
The team knew since this past summer that they were going to be back with two cars and also knew then that Kellett was the front runner for that other seat. Bourdais was already locked in for the 14 and Kellett was already their choice for the 4.
Some may wonder then, why Kellett? With Kimball still a free agent and other rumors like Romain Grosjean and F1 cast offs like Kevin Magnussen, Sergio Perez (maybe?), mixed with current INDYCAR free agents like Santino Ferrucci, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Spencer Pigot, James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly, Oliver Askew and others available right now, why Kellett?
It’s a fair question. Nothing against Kellett too. Also, nothing against Foyt either. Neither have had much recent success, so the question is being asked about this pairing on how this came about.
Well, Kellett made eight starts for Foyt last year with a best result of 20th (both at Road America). This is why the question we’re seeing is being asked. The history aspect is there, but the results weren’t.
Well, Foyt though believes in Kellett. They noted that when this relationship began, it was never intended to be just a one year deal. They think that he can help this program continue forward from 2020 to 2021 and continuing what they started together.
It’s all part of the greater plan, one that Foyt has done a good job of putting together so far.
Last year, well it’s a mulligan year for them in some rare circumstances. Practice sessions were few and far between. There was also no testing. It was a learn on the fly year per say. Not an easy task for a rookie racing part time at that.
“Obviously, we got to work with Dalton a little last year,” Larry Foyt said. “He was part of the three-driver rotation in the 14 car, and obviously, the goal was to get him full-time. 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. I think he impressed a lot of people and we were just happy we were able to get him full-time.
“The thing sometimes you see someone’s body of work in racing as they are coming up through the series and as they jump into the bigger car, you don’t know what to expect, right. You just have to see, okay, how is he going to adapt to the bigger tire, more horsepower, and what we saw was he really adapted well. And he was great at looking at data, improving himself, going quicker.
“I think he can really surprise a lot of people and that’s what we see in him and that’s why we wanted to get him full time.”
This isn’t about Kellett having funding either. Foyt said the funding helps, but they believe in Kellett. They needed money but they weren’t just going to take it from anyone. They needed that someone to have talent too.
“Well, you have to have sponsorship to be able to compete, no doubt,” Foyt said. “You certainly can’t do it on race winnings alone. Every team out there, that’s probably the majority of my day, honestly, is spent on sponsorship stuff. During a pandemic, it’s extremely difficult.
“So no, it’s just a great relationship that we already had with K-Line, obviously through Dalton, but they are just super people, super company, and we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t think Dalton can do well on track.
“So at the end of the day, that trumps everything, and we just think there’s a lot of potential there that people just haven’t seen yet, and we think we can get it out of him.”
See, the organization also gained a lot of momentum at the end of 2020 even under these circumstances. Bourdais, took over the 14 car for the doubleheader weekend at Indy in October and then drove it in the season finale at St. Pete and he exceled. He kept them in the leaders circle money and kept this car moving in the right direction.
They feel like a full season with Bourdais in 2021 could really propel this car back to the front again. Kanaan, helped when he came in for the 2018 season and Bourdais is going to what they hope will take them to a new level still.
“I think having Seb on board is going to be a great asset to the program,” Kellett said. “I’m really looking forward to working with him. We had a great test earlier in the off-season at Barber Motorsports Park in October, and 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.
“So I think he’s going to be a great asset and looking forward to working with him. Yeah, it was tough as a rookie with limited track time. But it was, like I said, 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.”
For the 4 car, Kellett can help this one too they believe. They also said that a revamp in the engineering department again can contribute to this team continuing their ascension.
“Well we want to win races,” said Foyt. “We obviously feel Seb can and we feel Dalton can, as well. Really, this is only his first year in IndyCar. That’s a lot to ask. We’re not going to be pushing him on that.
“The biggest thing is let’s go, let’s keep improving. Let’s get faster and faster, and I think Dalton has got the right mindset for that.
“Last year, I think he knew the situation everybody was in with COVID, with some of the races getting cut, some of the sponsorship getting cut due to that. It was tough on teams and we had kind of put him in a tough spot because it’s like, hey, we really want you to go out there and do your best but we don’t want you to be out there crashing cars, which rookies a lot of times are going to make that mistake.
“But Dalton did a good job to stay, to just to keep getting quicker on a good pace and not overstep the bounds too much because we really needed that as a team. He’s a really good team player. That’s the thing, we have to see where we shake out as a seem with Seb leading the program and starting to get some of our — hopefully driving our setups and direction for Dalton to feel and also contribute to.
“So there’s a lot going on but I think we showed in St. Pete some of our basic setups, hopefully aren’t too bad, and I think we’ll be competitive.”
So, what about Kimball?
It didn’t work out but they ended on good terms. Larry Foyt feels like Kimball will end up in one of the open seats at Coyne or Carlin. While he didn’t necessarily single out those teams, those are the only realistic options left for seats open.
What about Grosjean?
Foyt admitted that they talked but it never really got off the ground. They had a short introduction but that was it. Neither side had any serious conversations.
What about a third car?
Foyt says that unless he hits the lottery, a third full time team isn’t happening. It is still possible though for a third Indy only entry which we’ve seen out of them in recent years.
“It’s something on our radar for sure. I’m a big person who thinks growth is important to any business, but it has to be done the right way.
“I think we suffered some growing pains as we went to — from one car to two car a few years back that we are finally getting over. But at the same time, it just has to be the right situation. We did look at some deals, and just felt like it wasn’t the right time at this — at this juncture. We really wanted to focus on Seb and Dalton for this year.
“I’m sure we’ll see, we typically run three cars at Indy. We’ll see if that comes about. But really wanted to focus on the two cars for 2021.”