Friday, February 10, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: A.J. Foyt Racing

After covering the top team from the 2016 Verizon IndyCar season, now let's look at the team that occupied the bottom of the series. It was another difficult season for the legendary A.J. Foyt Racing. Neither of the Foyt's drivers finished in the top fifteen of the championship and the team has finally cleaned house. Foyt has two new drivers, a new manufacture, new crew members and a whole new set of expectations after a few seasons of nothing but disappointments.

2016 A.J. Foyt Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 5th (Long Beach, Toronto)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 3rd (Pocono)
Final Championship Positions: 17th (Takuma Sato), 20th (Jack Hawksworth), 31st (Alex Tagliani).

2017 Drivers:

Conor Daly - #4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet
A rookie year that seemed to be five years in the making, the Irish-American finally got his first crack at full-time in IndyCar and he did it with Dale Coyne Racing. The struggle for pace was countered with slick strategy that saw him advance from the first round of qualifying on numerous occasions. Strategy put Daly in the lead at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis before ending up sixth. An aggressive strategy got him second in the first Belle Isle race and he ended that weekend with a sixth in race two. While he struggled for pace on the ovals, Daly's road course form was stout as he picked up another sixth-place finish at Mid-Ohio and he finished fourth at Watkins Glen.

Numbers to Remember: 
11: Years since A.J. Foyt Racing had an American start the season with the team.

1,365: Days between Daly's most recent victory and St. Petersburg (GP3 feature race at Valencia, June 16th, 2013).

4,292: Days between the last victory for car #4 in IndyCar and St. Petersburg (Tomas Scheckter, June 11, 2005 at Texas with Panther Racing).

6,854: Days between the last victory for A.J. Foyt Racing by an American driver and St. Petersburg (Billy Boat, June 6, 1998 at Texas).

Daly has to take a step forward in every category even though he had five top ten finishes as a rookie. He needs to improve average finish, average starting position, lead lap finishes, total finishes, you name it, Daly needs to do better in it. His lack of oval success wasn't just Daly's fault, Coyne doesn't have the greatest oval program but Daly can't have another season averaging a finish of 20.6 on ovals especially when his teammate is Carlos Muñoz. I think he needs to average a finish between 12-13 and improve his average start to somewhere in that range as well. On ovals, Daly has to shoot for at least lead lap finishes at the 500-mile races and finishing no worse than two laps down at the other ovals with at least one top ten finish on an oval.

Carlos Muñoz - #14 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet
After three full seasons at Andretti Autosport and finishing as the top Andretti car in the championship in 2016 in tenth, the Colombian has switched to A.J. Foyt Racing and will take on the famed #14. After a rough start to the 2016 season, Muñoz found his footing at Indianapolis and finished second in the "500." He would pick up five top ten finishes in the final ten races, including a third at Mid-Ohio and winning his first career pole position at Texas. Muñoz was running at the finish of the final 14 races to close out the season and completed all but three laps in those 14 starts.

Numbers to Remember: 
1: Only once in the last two seasons did A.J. Foyt Racing have a double top ten finish (Belle Isle 2 2015. Sato finished second and Hawksworth seventh).

2001: The last season A.J. Foyt Racing had a driver finish in the top ten of the championship (Eliseo Salazar, fifth).

6,132: Days between the last double top five finish for A.J. Foyt Racing and St. Petersburg (2000 Indianapolis 500, Salazar finished third and Jeff Ward finished fourth).

I think Muñoz's goal should be top ten in the championship. He did it with an underperforming Honda at Andretti Autosport. He should definitely be able to contend for it even with an underperforming Chevrolet at A.J. Foyt Racing. I think he could win an oval. That could be a stretch but he should be able to get three or four top ten finishes on ovals. The other goal for Muñoz should be to beat his teammate. While Daly is highly regarded, Muñoz has been impressive in his first three seasons and is only 25 years old. He is arguably a better driver than his teammate in all aspects of driving. The only other thing to add is that Muñoz and Daly should be bringing the car home in one piece more often than Foyt's previous drivers.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.