A.J. and Larry Foyt have family team at top of IndyCar

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Larry Foyt may be earning praise for his management of the team that bears his father’s name. But he makes sure to keep four-time Indianapolis 500 champion A.J. Foyt 100 percent involved in its direction.

“Believe it or not, I hardly make a decision that we [both] don’t go over,” Larry said on Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Our working relationship has really been awesome. When I first came in, when he made the announcement that I was going to be team director, I didn’t want to just jump in and be the boss’ kid [and] come in and change everything. I really had to get back into an IndyCar mentality. I wanted to analyze the team, see what we were working with.

“As I’ve learned over the years, every year he’s given me a little bit more leeway to do things the way I’ve wanted. I think we’ve become a more engineering-based team, kind of what modern IndyCar racing is. It has changed a lot over the years.”

It was Larry that was the catalyst for the team’s signing of driver Takuma Sato, with A.J. mentioning that his son was “doing most of the talking” on that effort. So far, the decision has paid off handsomely with Sato’s victory at Long Beach last month (the first in over a decade for A.J. Foyt Racing) and a place atop the IZOD IndyCar Series championship standings going into this weekend’s “500.”

“I think we knew he was a good race driver,” A.J. said about Sato’s hire. “He did a lot of testing for Honda way back yonder on road courses. [We were] kind of looking for a guy that could play both parts, ovals and road courses…He does give you good feedback. [He] and the engineers work very close. I think that’s really been successful for us.”

As for the chances that he, Rick Mears and Al Unser are joined by either Helio Castroneves or Dario Franchitti this weekend as four-time winners of the “500,” A.J. said he wouldn’t be surprised to see “a six, seven, eight-time winner” of the race one day with the current technology being used.

However, he also wondered how Castroneves and Franchitti would fare in the equipment he raced with in the past.

“They’re good race car drivers with the equipment they’re in, [but] they need to get in a roadster with cement tires and see how good they stick in a corner,” A.J. said, earning some laughs from his audience.

Schmidt Peterson hires IndyCar’s first female lead engineer, will work with Hinchcliffe

Photo courtesy Audi Sport
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Leena Gade, who helped lead Audi to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as lead engineer for the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in INDYCAR,” Gade said in a team media release. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Indy car (racing), especially when Nigel Mansell first came over (in 1993), and I followed it quite a lot.

“During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the U.S. to work in it like Piers (Phillips, SPM’s general manager).

“I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gade, who grew up in India and is from Great Britain, is one of the most recognized engineers in all forms of international motorsports. She becomes the first female lead engineer in Verizon IndyCar Series history.

She’s also the second female lead engineer in Indy racing history, joining Diane Holl, who served as engineer for Adrian Fernandez, Tony Kanaan (Tasman Motorsports) and Richie Hearn (Della Penna Motorsports) in CART from 1996-2000.

Gade, who holds engineering degrees from the University of Manchester in England, has engineered cars in several race series and for several manufacturers, including F1, BMW, A1 Grand Prix, GT racing, Jaguar, Audi and most recently with Bentley Motorsport.

She became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011, and followed that up with another Le Mans win in 2012, as well as being part of the World Endurance Championship drivers and manufacturers titles in the same year.

Also in 2012, she was named FIA WEC “Man of the Year” and was awarded the C&R Racing Women in Technology award from the Lyn St. James Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.

Her team also won Le Mans for a third time in 2014.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Piers Phillips said. “ I’ve known Leena for quite some time now and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

Gade and Hinchcliffe go into the deep end that Phillips referenced when they take part in a team test Jan. 24 at Sebring International Raceway, the first time the pair will work together.