For the 6th time in the last 7 years a new driver (Benjamin Pedersen) is in the 2nd AJ Foyt car. Same for the primary (No. 14) – Santino Ferrucci. How much does all this driver turnover cost them in areas like on track performance? Does having a pair of new drivers in 2023 force them to take another step back?
They hope not. See, for this organization, they’re going to keep tweaking with the whole structure until they can find some solid footing. It’s something that has escaped them in the last several years and for this time around, they feel like they’ve got the right people in place to for once, make a charge back up towards the front of the field again.
There’s been some new hires not only driving the cars, but in house too.
New faces in new places were capped off by highly respected veteran engineer Michael Cannon joining the team this year. Cannon will lead the team’s race engineers Daniele Cucchiaroni and Roberto Garcia.
“It was an opportunity to do something that interests me,” said Cannon. “I know that Larry has been working hard to move the team up the grid. I saw this opportunity to both help him and Santino and obviously Benjamin Pedersen who’s coming on board. I want to see if I can make a difference here.”
Cannon’s career spans five decades dating back to the early 1980s.
Does this new lineup alter the culture of this team? Can this new group end a near decade long winless drought for AJ Foyt Racing?
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?
The drought is nearing a decade this April.
It will be somewhat tough to go from a team that made up the bottom of the standings and immediately jump to mid pack.
“We just needed some organization,” Ferrucci said on Tuesday’s Day 1 of INDYCAR Content Day. “I had this chat with Larry back a while ago. The team has all the fundamentals to really put a good car out there.
“If you look back at the results, they’re really not a reflection of the actual speed of the car, in my opinion. I think that having someone like Michael Cannon come onboard to really help organize this team, put them on the right track, give them as what he calls Racing 101. We needed some consistency. I think that was the biggest thing. That’s what we’re hoping to really find.
“I’d like to see this team back inside the top 10 consistently, then go from there. We got to be a little bit realistic. It is tough coming off of where the team has finished in the last couple years. We definitely can see a lot of rapid growth hopefully throughout the winter.”
Pedersen may be a rookie, but he also had a front row seat to seeing the team last year. The plan was always for him to be a driver for them in 2023, so he spent most of his weekend’s in 2022 shadowing the team. He says this new energy brought to this team in the offseason is a great start to improving off of a struggling year for them last season.
“It’s been very exciting times at AJ Foyt Racing, new people, new organization, new structure, new methods. People are so hungry right now to be there and to improve,” said the rookie driver on Tuesday. “I think it’s been a lot of time, but before my time there, of people wanting it but not necessarily knowing how to get there. But now there is a very good path with as a team how we can accomplish things that we have as goals.
“People are staying extra during the weekends to practice pit stops when they don’t have to be. People don’t have to be there to help them are showing up to help with that, and it’s just really special to be a part of.”
Pedersen says that the time with the team last year was so valuable and made him feel already like a piece of the team. The only thing he wasn’t doing for them was actually driving the car itself.
“Every team meeting I was part of. You know, being on the timing stand, seeing strategy come into play, it was a really big help, and kind of made me feel like I got a season’s worth of experience without driving the car,” he continued.
“And the only difference is now I’m driving the car. Strategy meetings, everything like that will feel very similar, and I am very grateful to the team for letting me be a part of that last year, and can’t wait to do it now for real and as an official driver for them and working together.”
Larry Foyt said last Fall that he doesn’t expect to necessarily win right away. It’s going to take some time still to gel. However, there are certain places that he does feel to where they can excel and maximize their growth quicker than others.
“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 this year, 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.”
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.