INDIANAPOLIS — The search is over. Santino Ferrucci found himself a path back to a full-time seat in the NTT INDYCAR Series. AJ Foyt Racing found their perfect guy in that path and hopes to be a destination and permanent residence of this wild journey that led the Connecticut born driver to.
It was a wild path for the 2 sides to come together, but now that they are, the pairing couldn’t be more perfect. It makes complete sense and one that could be the deal that led both to paths of resurrection.
A “prove it” year for both.
“Really I think we both feel like we’ve got something to prove,” Larry Foyt said on a zoom call announcing this move on Thursday afternoon. “We were really aligned on what we want to do, work together, get out there. It really just all came together.”
Ferrucci is just a younger version of AJ Foyt. Brash. Doesn’t care what people think about him. Fast. Races anything. Makes everything that he does race in competitive. He’s raced sprints, he’s raced midgets, he’s raced an INDYCAR a NASCAR, you name it. He also likes to work on his own cars just as his new boss.
Foyt sees a lot of himself in this young racer too and now the 24-year-old is back in Indy Car with a potential to bring AJ Foyt Racing back from the ashes and into the national limelight again.
“I think the coolest thing, when I listen to A.J., the appreciation is there,” said Ferrucci. “I like to work on my own stuff as well. I definitely turn wrenches. In the garage, when I was growing up karting, I’d show up at the racetrack in the back of a pickup truck and do my own setups.
“Having the fundamentals, I’m not the typical driver that doesn’t get his hands dirty. There’s a lot of those today that don’t even know how to drive a stick, which is mind-blowing to me.
“I am a very old school mentality. I want to be in the weeds like everybody else, working on things, making sure everybody is doing it together.
“It’s a team, man, at the end of the day. I’m one part of many. We need to function like a team.”
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. “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.
“A.J. is a huge fan. Obviously when you run good at Indianapolis, A.J. takes notice (smiling). Especially on the ovals, A.J. is at pretty much all the oval races for sure.
“I was super impressed with what Santino did at Texas. He’s watched him race at Indy, Gateway. Just Santino will jump in and race anything. He’s just a racer. That certainly catches A.J.’s attention.
“A.J. just really wanted somebody that really wanted to race. Really glad we were able to get him.”
So how this deal came about?
It started in Texas ironically enough. Ferrucci, like Foyt, lives in the Lone Star State. So he showed up to chat with people in the paddock as a spectator this past March. The Foyt’s were one of the people he spoke to. Then Jack Harvey crashes in practice and gets injured later on in the day. He wasn’t cleared to race on Sunday and there Ferrucci was to sub.
He finished 9th without any practice or qualifying. It was also the best finish of the year for that ride too.
The Foyt’s knew then that they had to have that guy. The dialogue only sped up and with Kyle Kirkwood basically on a one-year loan, they had an opening.
“Whatever the situation, he goes forward on race day,” Foyt said of Ferrucci. “That’s what I really liked. When you look at it, INDYCAR qualifying is so tough, especially with the knockout qualifying on road courses, you got to get a perfect lap, get your tire pressures right there. Some days you got to come from the back.
“Even when he had to face that, I was really impressed how he got to the front. Like he said, even with limited practice, he did a really good job.
“We’re not saying, Now we’ve got to go and this goal is going to be crazy, be in the top five every week. I think we’re reasonable that we are still rebuilding something, we’re building a program. But there’s no reason we feel like on a given weekend we can’t have a really good result.”
That’s the surface to what led us to today but that’s not the whole story. Let’s dig deeper.
Ferrucci lives in Texas remember. That’s where Foyt lives. That’s where this 14 car resides. Ferrucci’s lucky number?
Ferrucci’s favorite driver he idolized growing up?
“I’ve used a bunch of numbers throughout my career,” he said. “Growing up in my era, I more idolized Tony Stewart than anybody else just ’cause he was super current at the time. I loved his enthusiasm. He’s just nuts, man. That’s what I love about him.
“I ran the 14 in Europe for a couple years. It was always good to me. Some of my other lucky numbers are like 10 and 21 throughout my karting career.
“It’s all mental at the end of the day. It’s your perception. For me 14 is a good number for me. It’s a perception. You have to have positive thoughts on little things ’cause little things make the difference.”
It gets better. And wilder.
Ferrucci’s mentor to what made him the driver he is today in INDYCAR was Sebastien Bourdais. The Frenchman left DCR for…Foyt in 2020. Now Ferrucci takes over that same 14 ride that Bourdais drove just 2 years ago.
“Working with Sebastien was monumental for my career because it really showed me how to be organized with the team even though it was just a year,” Ferrucci said of Bourdais. “Still really close to him, still talk to him.
“It’s one of the things where he kind of showed me how to take charge, to have to go down the correct path. He told me a bunch of times, I’ll never forget it, things I wanted to try, he said straight up, It’s never going to work.
“It looks good on paper.
“It’s never going to work.
“He has helped steer me out of a lot of wrongs and rabbit holes to really set me more set in my ways for INDYCAR. Yeah, biggest thing from him was experience in how to lead a team. Like I said, I’ll carry that just about everywhere I can go.”
As far as how Ferrucci landed in this position that he was in, you have to go back to the beginning.
Ferrucci started off karting in the northeast. His father owned a track that Sage Karam and Marco Andretti would race at. However, Ferrucci’s path was different than that of Karam’s and Andretti’s. He went overseas to pursue an F1 ride.
He made it all the way to F2 before drama set in. He decided to come back home to maybe give INDYCAR a try. That led him to Dale Coyne Racing whose driver, Pietro Fittipaldi, was out due to a crash overseas of all places. Coyne and Ferrucci met and chatted which led to an opportunity at Belle Isle that June. Then he drove 2 more races for them at the end of the season as well.
Fittipaldi is a reserve driver for Haas F1. Ferrucci was once in that role. Haas is co owned by Tony Stewart. It’s the same guy that is always linked to Foyt because of their nature and their racing power. Stewart is a modern day AJ Foyt. Ferrucci is the mold between both. He idolizes Stewart, remember.
“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.”
The team liked him so much they brought him back full-time in 2019. He dazzled in scoring a top 10 in his first race of the season for them on the streets of St. Pete which was the first of 7 top 10’s that season. One of which was his Indy 500 debut to which he finished 7th and drew the eye of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2020 saw him move from the 19 car with the team to the 18 ride that was co-owned by Vasser Sullivan. 5 more top 10 finishes, including a top 5 at Indy, resulted in another 13th place finish in the final standings. The problem is, funding dried up and so did his ride.
2021 saw him have to go part-time. He ran 5 races for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing which included 4 top 10’s with a worst result of 11th. He was still fast and proved deserving of a ride. Hy-Vee came on but the team chose Jack Harvey in favor of Ferrucci.
In the meantime, he was also making NASCAR appearances in the Xfinity Series with Sam Hunt Racing. Ferrucci made 7 NXS starts in 2021 and despite no practice of qualifying on those tracks, plus racing a stock car for the first time of his life, he still garnered 4 top 15 results including 3 of which in his first 4 races.
That allowed him a couple more opportunities with the team in 2022 as well as 3 races in INDYCAR. Each race was with a different team. 1 of them was at Texas, the final start was for another injured Callum Ilott at Juncos Hollinger Racing in Belle Isle.
The middle start was a planned one for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at Indy. He finished 10th but that was after charging hard again and running inside of the top 5 for much of the event.
Which is why his credentials are all the more reason to why if Foyt allows him time to groom with another year of turnover, Ferrucci could be a blessing in disguise here.
He’s going to be a threat next May. It doesn’t matter who he races for, he’s always up front. With 4 top 10 finishes in as many tries for 3 different teams, why not do the same with Foyt?
He went from 23th to 7th in 2019, 19th to 4th in 2020, 23rd to 6th in 2021 and 15th to 10th last year.
Foyt has had good Indy cars, most notably in 2019 with Tony Kanaan. Even JR Hildebrand in a part-time seat finished 12th this past May. Imagine what Ferrucci could do in a full-time ride.
“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.”
Takuma 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 Pedersen and Ferrucci change that tune next season?
It will be somewhat tough to go from a team that made up the bottom of the standings and immediately jump to mid pack.
“Well, what I’d say is we know there are certain types of tracks that we feel we should show well,” Foyt said. “I think for us our strengths are certainly road and street courses. As always, we put an emphasis on the Indy 500, so we’ll continue to work on that program and make sure that we can do the best we can at Indianapolis.
“Then it’s, okay, where do we improve. I think permanent road courses have been a struggle for us, especially smoother tracks, so we’re certainly deep diving into damper programs to see what we’re lacking to make grip on that type of circuit.
“Again, a lot of rules aren’t changing from last year, so I think everyone tries to build on what they’re doing well, make it even better, but also what are weaknesses and how we make that better.
“The engineers have a lot of work over the winter to do on that, and that’s kind of our focus.”
If not next, then surely in 2024. It takes time to gel and I’ll give 2023 as a learning season for Ferrucci, Pedersen and Foyt. Even saying so, Ferrucci is so good, so fast, that I can’t see him not showing flashes of contention in some races. 2024 he could be there more consistent.
It’s more about Ferrucci taking this car and maximizing it as a veteran.
“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.”
There’s a possibility of the team using that 3rd car again. Dalton Kellett’s name is in that mix.
“We talk often, and I think there’s a mutual desire to continue,” Foyt said of Kellett. “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.
“It’s a huge piece, but then also with that is how the driver works with the engineers and things like that,” said Foyt. “Obviously that’s something we’re working hard on.
“It’s not like everything’s a total reset. I guess it is because you got two new drivers coming in. We have a lot of core pieces staying in place. We’re just building on that.
“I think last year there were tracks we had speed on and there were tracks we struggled on. We’re trying to work on those tracks that we struggled.
“I just think the good thing is Santino is going to get everything out of the car and get us some good finishes, get things rolling back the right direction. I really believe that.
“It’s not that we think consistently we’re going to be surprising people, but there’s no reason that we can’t have some really decent top 10s and even a little better.”
He was singing a similar tune a week ago.
“You know, excited the way things are progressing,” Foyt said with the Pedersen signing. “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.
“Kind of because of that, we pushed back testing — I don’t see ourselves doing much testing until into the new year. We just want to make sure we have a plenty long winter list before we get into that. Want to see exactly where engineering is and all of that.
“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.”
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.”
It marks the 2nd time in 4 years that Foyt will roll out a completely new driver lineup. Foyt says that the turnover of that magnitude doesn’t have as much of an impact as it once would have.
“Well, I think what we’re seeing is without the rules changing as much right now, I think it is different back in a time where maybe there’s a new chassis or some really new rule developments. I think everyone has brought this car down to such a level — we’ve had virtually the same car here for a little while.
“So your basic setups, you’re not going to reinvent the whole wheel. You do have driver preferences, so whether it’s Kanaan or Bourdais or Kirkwood, they do have some little things that you’re going to have to tune around the driver.
“I’m not really that concerned about it because I think you see these kids — Indy Lights drivers come in and do really well. We saw what Malukas did, we saw Kyle show speed plenty of times. Veterans are great, but rookies coming out of Indy Lights have shown really, really well, too, and I think Benjamin is going to jump right in and be just fine.”
Pedersen is only 23. Ferrucci is just 24. Foyt has a young pairing that can last for years if they do this right.