Wednesday, September 21, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: AJ Foyt Racing's 2016 Season

Another season is in the books and it is time to look back on the teams and drivers that participated in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Each week another team will be profiled and we will start with A.J. Foyt Racing. Let's just get it over with.

Takuma Sato's IndyCar career in one photo
Takuma Sato
Sato completed his seventh IndyCar season and it started off pretty well. Despite a flat tire early at St. Petersburg, he ended up finishing sixth. After a less than stellar 15th at Phoenix, Sato was the top Honda at Long Beach with a fifth-place finish after passing the likes of Will Power, James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan and was challenging Juan Pablo Montoya for fourth. A 13th at Barber ended Sato's first quarter of the season.

A blend line violation in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis ended any chance of a respectable finish. He slapped the wall in the Indianapolis 500 and he ended the first half of the season with uninspiring but decent runs at Belle Isle with finishes of 11th and tenth. Sato was in the running for a top ten finish at Road America but a pit lane speeding penalty relegated him to 17th in the final results. He finished 11th at Iowa.

Sato turned it around at Toronto by going off strategy and getting another top five finish. He would have had another top five finish at Mid-Ohio had Sato not made contact with Sébastien Bourdais and run off course, dropping him to a still respectable ninth. He qualified on row two at Pocono and then the wheels came off, literally as Sato spun exiting turn three on lap one. He had an accident in the warm-up session prior to Texas and couldn't do better than 20th in the race. He went off strategy at Watkins Glen and was on the verge of a top ten finish before spinning in the closing laps and ended up 17th. He finished 14th at Sonoma.

Takuma Sato's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 17th (320 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14.1875
Average Finish: 13.6875

Jack Hawskworth's career hits a crossroad after three seasons
Jack Hawksworth
The best race of Jack Hawksworth's 2016 season was the first race of the season but time would show that it is probably the most painful for the British driver. He started ninth and was running most of the race around the top ten but faded to 11th. He struggled at Phoenix and finished 19th and retired at Long Beach. Unfortunately, the most notable thing Hawksworth did in the 2016 season was get in the middle of the battle for the victory at Barber between Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal that prevented Rahal from getting Honda's first victory of the season.

He started fourth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after Josef Newgarden and Rahal had times disallowed but he could make nothing of the start on the second row and finished 20th. He started on the last row for the Indianapolis 500 but he just kept plugging along and ended up completing all 500 miles and finished 16th. A mechanical issue kept Hawksworth from starting the first race at Belle Isle and he started ninth in race two but a driveshaft failure ended another day early.

Despite a pit lane speeding penalty at Road America, just like his teammate, Hawksworth recovered to finish 11th. He struggled again at Iowa, hit the wall while contending for a top ten finish at Toronto (maybe because of some help from Simon Pagenaud) and had a large shunt at Mid-Ohio. He completed all 500 miles at Pocono and finished 14th. He was never a threat at Texas but getting caught in Mikhail Aleshin's accident was just salt in the wound. He went from ninth to 16th at Watkins Glen. He started 17th and finished 18th at Sonoma.

Jack Hawksworth's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 20th (229 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 15.4375
Average Finish: 17.5

I think we all expect there to be two changes at A.J. Foyt Racing this winter. Alex Tagliani led the team in laps led in 2016. He ran two races. That is how poor A.J. Foyt Racing was in 2016. By the way, quick run down of Alex Tagliani's 2016 season: Ran the two Indianapolis races. Was nonexistent in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Spun in Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Led 11 laps in the race, finished 17th.

I think Sato has run his course with the team and maybe in IndyCar as a whole. Hawksworth on the other hand was constantly in the top five on Fridays in practice. Bad drivers aren't in the top five in practice sessions. However, it is pretty difficult for a full-time IndyCar in this era to NOT get a top ten finish in a season. Something wasn't carrying over for this team from one day of a weekend to the next. It wasn't that long ago Hawksworth was the hidden gem in IndyCar. Now it appears his career is on the verge of ending before he turns 26 years old. Maybe an opportunity as the road course driver in the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing entry could revive Hawksworth's career but Hawksworth isn't a desired prospect like he was this time two years ago. You could hire him for a ham sandwich.

As for A.J. Foyt Racing itself. Who are they going to hire? Tony Kanaan's name has been floated as an option but that is a massive roll of the dices for Kanaan. It could be the move that ends his career. Does a Sage Karam or Gabby Chaves take the seat just to keep their careers going but run the risk of following in Hawksworth's footsteps? More importantly, does anyone want to go to Foyt? Maybe a guy like Luca Filippi would jump at the chance. It isn't a sexy team. It seems to be lacking on the engineering front. Despite Larry Foyt having more control over the team, it is still stuck in the mindset of A.J. Foyt and while it sounds great to look out for your buddies, it doesn't mean success on the race track. A.J. Foyt is a name that is becoming as synonymous with failure as it was success. If you are thirty years old or younger, you never saw the Foyt name as a model for success. It has been a name that symbolizes stubbornness.