Wednesday, September 20, 2017

IndyCar Wrap-Up: AJ Foyt Racing's 2017 Season

We are back for our annual IndyCar team reviews and once again we start with the bottom and once again we start with A.J. Foyt Racing, which split it operation between Houston, Texas and Indianapolis, Indiana this season.

It was a step down for Carlos Muñoz but good considering his situation
Carlos Muñoz
The Carlos Muñoz-era at A.J. Foyt Racing could not have started in a more A.J. Foyt Racing-esque way. The Colombian qualified 11th for his first race with the team, the third best Chevrolet on the grid with Will Power on pole position and Josef Newgarden starting fourth. However, Muñoz would be collateral damage when Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal got together in turn two and the innocent bystander Muñoz would call it a day after 32 laps because of the damage from that incident. He would recover nicely at Long Beach with a seventh place finish but followed that up with a 17th at Barber and tenth at Phoenix in a race that saw five cars taken out in the first turn of the race.

Muñoz has a good history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but that would not save him in 2017. He finished 15th in the road course race and started a career-worst 24th for the Indianapolis 500. However, Muñoz was on the right side of attrition and while Honda engines expired and other cars had accidents, Muñoz keep it on the road and finished tenth, his fourth top ten finish in five Indianapolis 500 starts. He closed out the first half of the season with finishes of 14th and 11th at Belle Isle and being caught up in the lap 152 accident at Texas.

The second half of the season started with another near top ten with an 11th at Road America, a retirement after brushing the wall at Iowa and two underwhelming runs at Toronto and Mid-Ohio with finishes of 15th and 18th respectively. Muñoz did turn it around for the final two oval races with a finish of tenth at Pocono and a ninth-place finish at Gateway, a race where he ran in the top ten all race. He made it three consecutive top ten finishes with a tenth at Watkins Glen but he could not make it four consecutive to close out the season, as he finished 15th at Sonoma.

Carlos Muñoz's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 16th (328 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 6
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 17.176
Average Finish: 13.588

It was a slow start for Conor Daly but he finished on a high note
Conor Daly
The American's first season with A.J. Foyt Racing failed to get going. He finished a lap down in the first two races with 15th at St. Petersburg and 16th at Long Beach, with a spin prior to the start at Long Beach adding insult to injury. He finished on the lead lap at Barber but was 18th, over 50 seconds behind race winner Josef Newgarden. Gearbox issues plagued his race at Phoenix but he finish the race, albeit 70 laps down.

Things didn't get better at Indianapolis. Pit strategy had Daly in the top ten in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis at one point but he fell back and stalling on the second pit stop cost him any shot at a top ten and he had to settle for 17th. Daly made an ambitious move to go to the outside and make it three-wide into turn three in the Indianapolis 500 and it ended with him in the wall and out of the race after 65 laps. A mechanical failure after 25 laps in the first Belle Isle race made it back-to-back retirements for Daly and he was running in the top ten until the final restart after contact with Hélio Castroneves dropped him from ninth to 12th. Daly didn't have the most competitive car at Texas but he was one of the last cars standing and despite being caught in the final accident of the night, he picked up a career-best oval finish in seventh.

The results remained rocky as IndyCar entered the summer portion of the season. He struggled to a 15th place finish at Road America, retired after brushing the wall at Iowa and was never a factor at Toronto. Mid-Ohio was the first solid weekend of the season for Daly as he started 11th and finished 10th. He completed all 200 laps at Pocono, his first career lead lap finish on oval. Daly kept up his good oval form at Gateway, driving from 11th to fifth and being competitive all race. He had another competitive day at Watkins Glen but fell short of a top ten by finishing 11th. He ended strong with a top ten finish at Sonoma and he led three laps in the process during a pit cycle.

Conor Daly's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 18th (305 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 3
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 17.0
Average Finish: 14.882

I don't think A.J. Foyt Racing should get rid of either of these drivers. I think the team should have known switching to Chevrolet wasn't going to be a walk in the park or quickly improve the results. There were going to be growing pains. Everything was new for this team and worst of all a lot of it the team has to forget because the Chevrolet aero kit is now obsolete.

Muñoz quietly finished in the top ten in four of the six oval races. Daly got a top five at Gateway and picked up three top ten finishes in the final six races and both drivers had a handful of near top tens. The issue was when A.J. Foyt Racing was off in 2017 the team was way off and the team couldn't dig itself out of the hole by using a different strategy. The one positive for this team is neither driver crashed a bunch of cars. Both their accidents at Texas were out of their control and both their Iowa accidents only bent suspension piece that led to their retirements. I think that is a plus for A.J. Foyt Racing when you consider the last few seasons.

The rumor out there is Foyt might bring in Tony Kanaan but I think that is wishing for a short-term gain but it will only likely be a long-term loss. Both Muñoz and Daly are 25 years old and both drivers turn 26 years old over the winter. Kanaan turns 43 years old on New Year's Eve and while he may have been second fiddle at Chip Ganassi Racing, his results were down from last year. Hiring Kanaan would be hoping to capture lightning in the bottle but it likely won't strike again. Foyt could probably keep Muñoz and Daly for the next four years and build on these two. You aren't getting four solid years out of Kanaan.

If this was last year I would say bring Kanaan in because you had Takuma Sato for four years and Jack Hawksworth for two year and had one victory at Long Beach and a second at São Paulo to show for it but after cleaning house you need to give the pieces you brought in a leash longer than a year to expect to yield any kind of results especially when the team itself switched manufactures. This is a time where A.J. Foyt Racing has to show patience. Unless the team can figure out a way to expand to a third car and add Kanaan to Muñoz and Daly, it should let the seeds planted in 2017 have a chance to sprout in 2018.