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.

Sato back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Team owner Bobby Rahal has solidified his 2020 NTT IndyCar Series lineup by announcing a contract extension with 101stIndianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato for another season at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Rahal also told NBC Sports.com in an exclusive interview that as each day passes, it is becoming more unlikely that he will be able to expand to a three-driver team next season.

“With each passing day, the reality becomes less that we will have one,” Rahal told NBC Sports.com. “I don’t think it’s a dead issue at this stage, but if something is going to happen, it has to happen pretty quickly.

“We would like to, but only if it is right. I’m not interested in having a third car, just to say we have a third car.”

Sato has won three races with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the last two seasons, including wins in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in April and the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at WeatherTech Raceway at Gateway in August.

He is a five-time IndyCar Series winner.

“He has developed a good relationship with engineer Eddie Jones, and they have had some pretty good races this year,” Rahal said. “They’ve had some that couple have been better but that is like anything in racing. Takuma is a very committed guy. There is some good chemistry between he and Eddie, and the team and it has produced some results.”

Sato will once again team up with fellow driver Graham Rahal.

“The challenge we face for both Graham and Takuma is to be more consistent,” Bobby Rahal explained. “We seem to be hot and cold. One weekend we are hot and the next weekend we are cold. If you look at Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing, they are pretty consistent. We need to figure out how to be that kind of a team. Our processes need to be better and that is our commitment to each other over the offseason, how to generate that consistency to fight for wins every race in the championship.”

At 42, Sato is one of the oldest drivers in the series, but he continues to get better. When he first arrived in the IndyCar Series in 2010, Sato had blazing speed, but often drove over the edge.

Simply put, he crashed a lot.

In recent years, Sato has been able harness that speed and it has helped him excel. He has a better understanding of the race-craft.

“He is making a lot fewer mistakes than he used to make,” Rahal said. “Some of that is having confidence in the car and the team. People forget, I retired when I was 45 and as still finishing on the podium. Takuma still has some good years left to win races and get on the podium.

“He works very hard off track. Sometimes, I think too hard to be honest because he is a very busy guy. We like him being on the team and having him as part of the team.”

Sato splits his time between his home in Tokyo with his family and his racing family in the United States. That makes him the most well-traveled driver in the series.

“Takuma was fundamental in NTT becoming the sponsor of the series,” Rahal said. “A lot of people don’t know that. He spends a lot of time in Japan taking care of his sponsors and it is demanding for sure.

“I think he travels too much. But, he’s not afraid to do it.”

He is also very popular with the sponsors on the team.

“Everybody likes Takuma,” Rahal said. “It’s fun to be around him.”

Sato first joined the team in 2012 and returned in 2018.  He has earned five wins in the series to date, three of which coming with the team.  The 2020 season will be his third consecutive with RLL, and fourth overall.

“I am very happy to continue our path together again after this season,” Sato said. “Every single member of the team is extremely loyal and have given me unbelievable support. I truly feel at home here and I am so proud of the team. We have had another great season this year and even had some tough times, but it only made our relationship stronger. I can’t thank Bobby, Mike (Lanigan), David (Letterman) and the entire team enough and I am looking forward to finishing the season strong and also looking forward to 2020.”

Sato has made 168 starts in the IndyCar Series since his rookie season in 2010.  His Indy car highlights include wins in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, 2018 Portland Grand Prix, 2019 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and Bommarito 500 at WWT Raceway, with three of the five coming with RLL.  Of his 12 podium finishes to date, eight have come with RLL and he has earned nine Indy car poles, two of which are with RLL.  Prior to joining the IndyCar Series, he competed in 90 Formula One races between 2002-2008 with his highest finish of third at the 2004 United States Grand Prix.