AJ Foyt, Tony Kanaan and 2018.
Just what a year 2018 maybe for IndyCar , the fans and that magic month of May. There are many great things to look forward to next year in IndyCar. Clearly it provides some of the best racing on the planet and one of the toughest championships for any driver to win. Some may say its not Formula 1 yes thats true its IndyCar and its great. To win in IndyCar you need to know how to drive from a road course to a street course to a small oval to a super speedway and then matin that all year long as well. Points in every race count. 2018 will be no different in that aspect but it will feature a clean sheet of paper in terms of aero kits and the return of a standard kit that really will create one of the best seasons ever. Why? Because every single driver and team really does have a chance in 2018 and then there is this story of Tony Kanaan and that most famous of all tracks the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As Tony prepared to sign last month with AJ Foyt Racing for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the veteran driver did so with goals still to accomplish in mind. Clearly, there was the opportunity to extend a stellar Indy Car racing career that will stretch into a third decade next season. There’s also the desire that continues burning inside for a second Indy 500 victory and to return the team led by racing icon A.J. Foyt to prominence.
But Kanaan had a couple, more subtle objectives to achieve when he signed on the dotted line. One of those goals was accomplished with the signature next to his on the contract. “I’ve always dreamed in my career to have A.J.’s autograph, which he doesn’t do it very often,” said Kanaan (above). “But I got it on my contract, so that’s plenty good.”
The other dream Kanaan is eager to see come true next May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is more symbolic in nature. The 42-year-old Brazilian is a huge fan favourite annually at Indy, but he knows his popularity pales in comparison to that of Foyt – the first of just three four-time Indianapolis 500 winners.
Kanaan said it’s evident from the onset of the first practice session each year, in particular with the royal treatment Foyt receives from the IMS Safety Patrol, more affectionately known as “yellow shirts” for their iconic uniforms.
“How many times I got in trouble trying to drive my golf cart through Gasoline Alley and actually got stopped by the yellow shirts and got yelled at and got sent out,” Kanaan said, flashing a smile. “And here comes A.J., riding right by (without being stopped), saying hi and all the yellow shirts are (bowing) and like, ‘A.J.! A.J.!’”
The 2013 Indy 500 winner cannot wait to take in that experience with the legendary Foyt next May. “Opening day (at IMS), the first thing I’m going to do is hop in that golf cart with him,” Kanaan said, the eagerness building in his voice. “I just want to have that experience. After I think I’ve seen it all at the speedway, this is one thing that I am missing and I’m doing it. A.J. – that’s a big name, it’s a legend. If I can gather half of his fan base just to cheer for me at the 500, we’re going to just dominate the place.”
Kanaan has heard a sampling of Foyt’s legendary stories over the years, but he can’t wait to spend hours in the Foyt garage taking in as many more as he can from the man himself. It’s that connection of two great drivers from different generations that Kanaan is eager to make. “The old man has a lot of stories and a lot of experience,” Kanaan said. “I want to take it and one day I’ll be proud telling the stories that he told me and I’ll be proud to say, ‘When I drove for A.J., this is what we did.’”
Foyt, whose 67 Indy car wins are the most in history by any driver, admits he sees parallels to his driving style and that of Kanaan. It’s one of the driving reasons why he sought to add the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion for the 2018 season and beyond. “What I’ve liked about Tony is I’ve seen him when he’s been struggling, but he never gives up,” said Foyt, owner of his own team since 1966. “That’s one thing I never did. I know a lot of races I won that I wasn’t capable of winning, but I never gave up and at the end I was still there and I won the race. That’s what I really like about Tony, he never quits. I think it’s going to put AJ Foyt Racing back where it needs to be,” Foyt added. “I think he can move us right back up front where we belong.”
Kanaan will drive the iconic No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season that begins March 11 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Combine that and the announcement from A.J. Foyt Racing officials that 19-year-old Brazilian, Matheus Leist, will drive the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet in the Verizon INDYCAR Series next year and you have the sense of something very special in the air and something that may only ever happen once as a passionate brazilians driver helps create a path for a new young star from his own native country.
“I wanted a fresh start for 2018. I think the combination of an experienced driver like Tony and a hungry young driver like Matt will work,” said A.J. Foyt. “I watched him in the Indy Lights this year and he won at Indy (Freedom 100 Indy Lights race). I know he’s got a lot to learn but I think he’s going to learn very quickly. I think he’ll be very good in the Indy Cars.”
Leist, currently the youngest full-time driver in the series, will be paired with the series’ most experienced driver in Kanaan, who will enter his 21st season of IndyCar competition. The rookie will benefit immensely from having the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion and fellow Brazilian as his teammate and he knows it. “This is a special moment in my career and I’m so grateful for the things that are happening,” said Leist. “Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that I’ll be driving for the legend A.J. Foyt. Having Tony Kanaan as my teammate is incredible because he’s been an idol for me since I was a child. Tony and I are from different generations but I can’t wait to be with him at the track and learn as much as I can from him. It will be a pleasure.”
With 17 victories to his credit, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion will be a valuable asset in both developing the teenage driver and moving the team’s ambitious race program forward. “I’m happy to welcome Matheus as a teammate to Foyt and the ABC Racing family,” Kanaan said. “Matheus is an extremely talented driver with a bright future ahead of him. I’m looking forward to working together and help get AJ Foyt Racing to the next level.”
Leist’s mercuric rise to IndyCar was fueled by a championship performance in the British Formula 3 Series where he posted four victories and seven more podium finishes. The championship came down to the wire where Leist’s coolness under pressure served him well as he snatched the title from series leader Ricky Collard in the final race. It was after winning that title in 2016 that he decided to pursue a career in America. “I’ve been racing for eleven years so far, and since I started in 2006, my brother and I always dreamed of getting into a top category,” Leist revealed. “I’m so thankful for the opportunities that I had so far and for the big moments that I lived. Every day I keep telling myself that I couldn’t have made a better decision than to come to the USA at the end of 2016. America is where things happen and where the good drivers have a proper place. series and I can’t wait for this dream to come true.”
“We had to make some tough decisions but we made them with a focus on strengthening the overall program. We are positioning ourselves to be contenders next season,” said Larry Foyt, team president of A.J. Foyt Racing. “The added testing and development we are undergoing, combined with the new aero kit for all of the competition should help our overall competitiveness and consistency. We think Matheus is going to be a really good fit with Tony Kanaan because Matheus has a lot of talent and he is going to learn a lot from Tony.”
Kanaan will be running a manufacturer’s test of the new universal aero kit next month at Sebring International Raceway while Leist is scheduled to test the new car in early January at Sebring. Both Kanaan and Leist will test together there at the end of January.
Will 2018 bring some AJ Foyt magic to the table you'd have to say its kinda in the stars but has a very real sense of passion, pride and all around good vibe to it thats for sure.