Thursday, February 18, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: AJ Foyt Racing

AJ Foyt Racing expanded to two cars in 2015 and unfortunately the results did not improve for the team. Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth both failed to score a victory and both failed to finish in the top ten of the championship. Both drivers did score five top ten finishes but outside of Sato's second in Belle Isle 2, none of the top tens were all that impressive. Both drivers have been retained for 2016. You have to think the results have to improve for either of these drivers to be retained for 2017.

2015 AJ Foyt Racing Review
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Belle Isle 2)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 4th (Belle Isle 1)
Final Championship Positions: 14th (Takuma Sato), 17th (Jack Hawksworth), 37th (Alex Tagliani).

2016 Drivers:

Takuma Sato
The Japanese driver reached the century make in terms of career starts at Mid-Ohio last year and ended the 2015 season with 102 starts. While finishing second at Belle Isle 2 was Sato's high of 2015, he had little to brag about. Sato retired from four of sixteen races. He did end the season with consecutive top ten finishes and he did have a respectable season in qualifying, a place where Honda struggled mightily in 2015.

Numbers to Remember: 
2- Most consecutive top ten finishes in Sato's career and he had done that on seven occasions.

4- Sato has had three consecutive finishes outside the top twenty on four occasions.

19.166- Sato's average finish in the Indianapolis 500 with 13th being his best on two occasions.

Sato is going to have another Sato type season. He will have a few great qualifying runs. He will have one race (likely a street course) where he is around the top five all day but for the most part he will be mediocre and end up finishing around 15th in the championship. He's not going to change. Despite having the speed to be one of the best on the grid he has never had the consistency since winning the 2001 British Formula Three championship. Sato turned 39 years old in January and this has to be his final straw, at least with AJ Foyt Racing. Another average season won't be enough to get him another year with the Houston-based team.

Jack Hawksworth
The British driver's sophomore season was his first for AJ Foyt Racing and while it started out well with an eighth at St. Petersburg, Hawksworth never found himself in contention for a race victory. He did pick up a pair of seventh at Belle Isle. Just like his teammate, Hawksworth retired from four races but unlike his teammate Hawksworth struggled in qualifying.

Numbers to Remember: 
21- Hawksworth was 21st in average starting position among drivers who made at least six starts in 2015.

5- Hawksworth has scored five top tens in each of his first two seasons.

17- Hawksworth has finished 17th in the championship in each of his first two seasons.

This will be Hawksworth's third season in IndyCar and it is make or break time for him. He enters 2016 with 33 career starts and should he start all 16 races in 2016, he will have 49 career starts, right on cusp of the 50-start plateau. Only 28 drivers have taken 50 starts or more to get their first career victory. I don't think Hawksworth can win in 2016 but I think he could jump his teammate in the championship. The only problem for him is even if he jumps his teammate, how well will he finish in the championship? Ten of the top thirteen in 2015 belonged to Ganassi, Penske and Andretti. I think Hawksworth can get a half a dozen top tens and if he sneaks a top five or two and finishes ahead of Sato, that might be enough to earn himself a third season with Foyt.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.