Two new drivers, new engine and new crew at Foyt. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar 2017 team preview: A.J. Foyt Enterprises

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MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. It’s almost an entirely new A.J. Foyt Enterprises set to compete in 2017.

Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)

4-Conor Daly (Daniele Cucchiarroni, George Klotz)
14-Carlos Munoz (Will Phillips, Larry Foyt)

Manufacturer/aero kit: Chevrolet

Sponsors: ABC Supply Co. (Nos. 4, 14)

What went right in 2016: Not much at all. There were no podiums and only two top-five finishes, while Jack Hawksworth didn’t even crack the top-10 once.

What went wrong in 2016: Quite a bit, and a couple additional chances for big results that Takuma Sato could have pulled off (Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio) went begging.

What’s changed for 2017: Nearly everything but the kitchen sink. Perhaps that, too. With a new engine and aero kits, two new drivers, a new technical director/engineer and the arrival of George Klotz on the strategist box, there’s a little bit of everything that’s different for the team that’s split between Waller, Texas and Speedway, Ind.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Steady progression and understanding with its new equipment, a couple early top-10 finishes to build momentum, and contending for top-fives and podiums as the year goes on.

MST PREDICTIONS

Tony DiZinno: Foyt’s team wins the “all the individual parts are good but how are they going to mesh as a new unit?” preseason award by a mile. As such, if they can succeed early, it will have spoken to an incredible effort following Larry Foyt’s day-to-day leadership. This is a nice way of saying I don’t expect much at the start, but as they start dialing in setups, I think results will start to come.

Kyle Lavigne: A.J. Foyt Racing has been one of the more perplexing teams in recent history. ABC Supply represents a solid and long-standing partnership that dates back to 2005. They’ve sported some solid driving talent in Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth. Larry Foyt presents himself as a solid team manager.

Yet, they’ve always underachieved, necessitating a complete reset ahead of 2017. Because of that, it may take a while before they get their legs underneath them. A dream season would see one of their drivers get on the podium once, but challenging to finish the top ten in the championship would be more realistic and signify tremendous gains.

Luke Smith: All change for Foyt in 2017. Two new drivers in the form of Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly, a switch back to Chevy power, plus an array of personnel alterations behind the scene is seen as the remedy to a couple of disappointing years.

Daly was my personal rookie of the year in 2017 and a regular spoke in the works for the front-runners with off-piste strategies, and could nab a podium or two. Munoz is of a similar ilk, and has plenty of experience of working with Honda from Andretti. Victory lane remains out of reach, but a marked improvement on 2016 should be the target this year.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).