INDIANAPOLIS – It’s no secret, AJ Foyt Racing has been searching the last several years to get back to their glory days in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Over the last three seasons, six different drivers have been behind the wheel of their two full-time cars. They’ve revamped the engineering department. They’ve spent the money to succeed but the results weren’t happening.
That’s where the signing of Tony Kanaan came in play. The popular Brazilian was supposed to find and help fix the problem. Heading into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET/ABC/INDYCAR Radio Network), Kanaan, 43, has done just that. His goal was to get the organization back to a top 10 contender. He has three top 11 finishes through five races in 2018. Coming into the 2018 season, Kanaan had made 343 career series starts. His veteran leadership was the key, especially since he was supposed to mentor a rookie teammate who had zero career INDYCAR starts prior to 2018.
The veteran to get them on track and to train their future protege.
“I impressed with him everyday,” Kanaan said of his young rookie teammate. “His success is my success. I work really close with him. He’s only going to get better. He’s very talented and a great kid. We have great chemistry with this team. It reminds me of the old Andretti guys.
“I’m proud of him. I’m really proud of him. We have a bright future here.”
It’s been working thus far. Matheus Leist has been fast and learning while Kanaan has been steadily getting this team turned around. Now, they enter the biggest race in the world on the world’s largest stage – the Indy 500. Everything they’ve done so far will be under a microscope and analysed.
See, Foyt has had just one top 10 finish in the Indy 500 since 2009. That came with a 10th place run by Carlos Munoz last season. Since 2001, they’ve had three top 10 finishes overall. Darren Manning came home ninth in 2008 and Eliseo Salazar seventh in 2001. The last top five finish at Indy for them came when Salazar finished third and Jeff Ward fourth in 2000. The year prior came their last Indy win in 1999 with Kenny Brack. Billy Boat finished third that day too.
The last top five for Foyt at Indy before that?
So, as you can see, since 1990, AJ Foyt Racing has had a combined five top seven finishes in the Indy 500. Kanaan on the other hand, has had five top five finishes in his last seven starts on the famed 2.5-mile track. He was fourth in 2011, third in 2012, won in 2013, fourth in 2016 and fifth last year. Leist, well he’s had one start at Indy before and he won it. The Brazilian won last year’s Freedom 100 Indy Lights Series race on Carb Day.
So, as you can also see, this could be the best ‘500 for Foyt this century.
Kanaan, was in the top six of the last two days of race practice last week and will roll his No. 14 Chevrolet off 10th. Leist, has been quietly quick all month too and starts 11th himself.