INDIANAPOLIS — There was chatter that this move would occur. It’s the main reason as to why car numbers weren’t revealed in the announcement that Benjamin Pedersen would be joining AJ Foyt Racing on a new multi-year contract. If Foyt could land the driver that they were after, then the rest was history.
On Thursday, that driver that they were after was announced.
Santino Ferrucci is once again a full-time driver in the NTT INDYCAR Series as he has been named to pilot the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet in 2023. Ferrucci is the latest hire for the legendary team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters. Pedersen’s car will fielded out of their Indianapolis race shop.
For the last two years, Ferrucci seemed to be the “go-to” guy when race teams needed a substitute driver. While appreciative to receive the calls, Ferrucci is thrilled he won’t be available for subbing in 2023.
“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full-time,” said Ferrucci. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a racecar driver and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”
Team President Larry Foyt consulted with his famous father about bringing Ferrucci into the fold for 2023. The senior Foyt had chatted with the curly-haired youngster on several occasions this year and liked his attitude.
“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said via a team release. “He’s shown a knack for getting towards the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”
Ferrucci is equally enthused about the move to AJ Foyt Racing.
“It’s going to be a very unique opportunity to work with both A.J. and Larry closely to build a new program,” he said. “To race for a legend like A.J. Foyt — it’s a dream come true. I like to think of myself as an “old school” driver who likes loose race cars and gets behind the wheel of anything with four wheels and an engine. So driving for a guy like A.J., knowing that he drove everything throughout his career, it’s going to be a chance of a lifetime for me.”
The Connecticut native made his debut in America’s premier open wheel series in 2018 when Dale Coyne Racing tapped him to drive for Pietro Fittipaldi, who was injured in a sports car crash. Until then, Ferrucci had been focused on driving in Formula 1, having moved to Europe at the age of 14 to compete in various junior formulas. Ferrucci holds the record for the youngest British Formula 3 Series winner at the age of 16 and has also raced in the FIA Formula 2 Championship. He has also driven for the Haas F1 team as a development driver from 2017-2018.
“INDYCAR became my goal after leaving F1 in 2018,” Ferrucci revealed. “I finished up my season in Europe and was asked to fill in for Pietro (Fittipaldi) in the Detroit Grand Prix. I instantly fell in love with the cars, the style of racing and the people. That’s when I knew that INDYCAR needed to be my new home.”
Ferrucci signed a full season deal with Dale Coyne Racing in 2019 and earned Rookie of the Year honors in his first Indianapolis 500 after finishing seventh. Since, he has competed in three additional Indianapolis 500 races, and Ferrucci has never finished outside of the top-10. In 2020, Ferrucci had his best finish of fourth.
When a full season ride didn’t materialize in 2021, Ferrucci found himself in the role of an INDYCAR “supersub” driver. However, Ferrucci didn’t sit idle waiting for the phone to ring. He inked a deal to drive for Sam Hunt in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – making nine starts over the last two years. In just his second start, he had a career- best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Ferrucci participated in the 2021 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals where 300-plus midgets race over the course of six nights on a quarter-mile clay track inside the Tulsa, Okla. Expo Center. Ferrucci didn’t make it to the final 24 car field, but his debut in midgets was memorable enough that he’s interested in doing it again.
When Ferrucci was asked if his varied experience helped him to adapt quickly to the Indy car, he replied, “Yes and no. I’ve driven everything from dirt cars to stock cars to go-karts to Indy cars to F1 cars, and driving Indy cars demands a very unique driving style. It’s definitely the type of car where uncomfortable is fast — and it’s very hard to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Apparently the 24-year-old has figured out how to enjoy being uncomfortably fast, as he added,
“There’s nothing like being on a short oval ripping through the gears three-wide at a place like Iowa Speedway or going 240mph at Indy. There’s just nothing like that in existence anywhere else in motorsports. Bring on 2023.”
And that is something his 87-year-old boss can appreciate.
A Lot Of Turnover In This 14 Car, Why Ferrucci In This Ride and Pedersen Not
One of the more iconic numbers in open wheel racing is the 14 car. AJ Foyt took this number for a very successful career. The thing is, since Foyt stepped out of the ride, they’ve struggled to make it competitive on a regular basis again.
This is the 3rd straight year we’ve seen a new driver in this ride. Ferrucci will be following in the footsteps of Kyle Kirkwood (2022), Sebastien Bourdais (2021) and Kirkwood (2021), Tony Kanaan (2018-2019, part 2020), Carlos Munoz (2017) and Takuma Sato (2016). In fact, Ferrucci will be the 7th driver in the last 8 years to race this car since 2016.
Sato is the last one to win for Foyt and this car in general back in Long Beach for the 2013 season. It’s winless in the last 164 races. Can Ferrucci change that tune next season?
Having a veteran in the car will help.
“The tough thing was there were plenty of races I think we showed some speed, and we couldn’t capitalize,” Foyt continued. “We had too many accidents. At Texas Kyle was running well and we have a crash. You get kind of beat down because you start — you’re fixing cars all the time, and the guys get tired, and it’s kind of a domino effect.
“It certainly made it tough, and all of a sudden you’re like we’re back in the points and we’re trying to climb out of it, and it certainly was frustrating and disappointing because we did come in with a lot of optimism.
“But that’s motor racing. You don’t give up. None of the guys gave up, kept going, and even I know Kyle was frustrated, but through all of our talks, he just wanted to push on.
“That was just unfortunate, but that’s part of racing, and sure, we wanted more out of it, but that’s the way it went, and now we start to where we’re looking forward, not backwards.”
Ferrucci agreed in what he saw out of this group.
“I mean, the biggest thing is when I talked to Larry, spent a lot of time on the phone with him, talked about this,” he said. “The car has shown speed this year, without a doubt. It’s had its moments of brilliance. It’s about how to make it consistent.
“The car also didn’t finish a lot of races because he had a rookie in the car. Bringing the team back into consistency. Are we going to show up in St. Pete and light the world on fire? Absolutely not. Are we going to start with realistic goals, put the car in the top 10, seeing how consistent we can be? Yeah, without a doubt.
“It’s going to be a new team for me. It’s going to be completely reorganized by the time we start our winter prep, which has already started. I’m now about join.
“It’s one of those things where we’re going to get the most out of this if we stay realistic and we stay consistent. Talking to Larry about it, I think we can bring in a couple of good engineers, me being based in Texas, I can spend a lot of time with the team, make sure our pit stops are good, building the cars to top quality.
“Like I said, all we got to do is go out there and perform and see what it gives us, go from there.”
As far as why Ferrucci over Pedersen in this ride was simplified than we once thought. Ferrucci is the most logical fit for the 14 but the reasoning isn’t to what he thought it was. He’s in the 14 because he lives in Texas. The 14 car is housed in Houston. The 4/11 cars are based in Indianapolis. Pedersen lives in Indianapolis…
Kellett’s Status? He’s the only one for the 3rd car
With Foyt running 2 cars for the duration of the 2022 season and now having signed 2 drivers for those seats for the while 2023 season, what does this mean for Dalton Kellett? Larry Foyt has continually said that there’s a place for Kellett for the team should it make dollars and sense.
“We talk often, and I think there’s a mutual desire to continue,” Foyt said of Kellett last week. “I think we just have to make sure we can put together a really good team around him, so we’re trying to see what that would look like and if it’s a possibility or not. I think that’s where it sits. We haven’t decided necessarily. We’re just trying to see who’s available, what it would really look like if we did.”
That’s why I feel like it’s telling that when they’ve made these 2 announcements in the last 2 weeks that no number has been tied to Pedersen yet. Ferrucci makes a ton of sense for the 14, but Pedersen could drive the 4 if Kellett doesn’t come back and the 11 if he does.
“You know, excited the way things are progressing,” Foyt said. “Obviously it’s very early in the winter, but even though it seems like a long off-season in INDYCAR, it happens super quickly. Our season is so intense that this is where you really have to get a lot done.
“Right now what I’d say is we’re definitely two cars for sure, potentially could be three. I don’t want to speculate too much whether we’ll be two or three. But certainly two. There is a possibility of three, but I’m not sure where that’s going to end up yet.
“The only person we’re talking to is Dalton. Obviously, he’s been a part of the team. There’s a desire to work together, but we both know we have to go out and find some people to make that happen.
“We’re not going to do anything unless it was really going to strengthen the team. We’re both on the same page on that./
If not Kellett, then it’s no one else. Not even a 4th for Indy only either.
“Yeah, on the JR (Hildebrand) side, I don’t know that we’ll run an extra car at the 500. We just have to see how that shakes out,” Foyt said on the manner.
“At the moment some of that funding has gone into this program to make sure it was a full-time program. I think we may just not worry about an extra car at the Speedway this year is kind of the thought.
“Everything is still open. It’s still very early days. Hate to speculate too much. Yeah, that’s kind of where it’s at.
“If we ran a third, it would only be with Dalton, so… Not looking for a third outside of that at the moment.”
However, if a deal is to be done with Kellett, it has to happen soon he says because late deals is to why he feels Foyt has struggled.
“I think it would have been OK, but it came together late,” he said of adding a 3rd car last year and the struggles around the team. “But unfortunately at that time, that was the only way the sponsor wanted to do it, and so for me to keep Kyle (Kirkwood) in a car, it was kind of a thing I had to do. Unfortunately, with the sponsorship, it didn’t work out in the long run anyway. But that’s why we had to make some tough choices.
“That’s what kind of hurt us. It just came together late.
Other than that, I think if you have the proper time to put a three-car team together, it’s OK, but with the shortage already of good mechanics and engineers in INDYCAR, it did make it a stretch for us last year.”
That plus another year of changes with the driver lineup, they need as much time this offseason to gel as ever.
“I think it’s just been too many changes year to year,” he notes. “Like I say, like being able to announce this multiyear deal I think is very important for our company, just because you’ve got — INDYCAR is so tight, everything is so close, that if you can get the right driver and engineer working together, get them to really know each other, and we just haven’t been able to put together that consistency. We’ve had different sponsorships, different engineers and different things over the past couple years.
“That’s the biggest thing I’m excited about is getting to work with a driver knowing we’re going into a multiyear program, building the program around him, something that suits him. I think that’s going to take us a big step forward with the team.”
Ferrucci Still Open To NASCAR
While Ferrucci has raced some Xfinity Series cars over the last couple of years and now coming back full-time in INDYCAR, does that end his NASCAR dreams?
Not necessarily he says.
“The stockcar racing, it’s still something I want to do in my career,” said Ferrucci. “It’s definitely something that I will see myself probably doing, not necessarily now, in the foreseeable future, but probably way down the road.
“Having done both and trying to make the full-time switch, it was tough, man. It’s just a different animal. It’s different with the teams. Different with the sponsors. Getting to run in that part of season in ’21, towards the middle, end of the year with RLL, seeing just how good we did with no testing, no sim time, just showing up as a part-time driver, just kind of made me think I do technically belong here.
“Running the 500, I still feel like I can win that race. It’s one of those things to where I would like to continue to do a couple stockcar races here and there. I do love the racing. But I think I fully belong in INDYCAR full-time for right now.”