New season gives early promise of better things ahead for A.J. Foyt Racing

Photos: IndyCar
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A.J. Foyt has been involved in racing since he first climbed into a midget car in 1953 at the age of 18.

Now 83, Anthony Joseph Foyt has been chasing the checkered flag and championships as both a driver and team owner for 65 years.

Along the way, he built arguably the most legendary career of any race car driver, including becoming the only man to win the Indianapolis 500 (tied with Rick Mears and Al Unser with four wins each), the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona (now the Rolex 24 Hours), the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

And let’s not forget the 12 national open-wheel and stock car championships (plus 2 IROC titles) he earned from 1960 through 1979.

You’d think at 83 that Foyt would retire to his Houston-area ranch and fondly reflect back on his illustrious career. At his age, why does he need to put up with all the headaches of owning, operating and managing a team, constantly chasing sponsors, attracting and keeping employees, as well as the too-few highs and far more lows of IndyCar racing?

Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist have A.J. Foyt smiling this weekend in St. Petersburg. (Photo: IndyCar)

But no, Foyt stays young by being as hands-on and as involved as he’s ever been. Sure, he’s slowed down a little over the years and maybe can’t do all the mechanical work he used to, not to mention having to deal with some concerning medical issues in the last few years.

But one thing will never change:

* Even though he’s been solely a team owner now for more than a third of his professional life, A.J. has been, is and always will be a racer first.

* Likewise, while he hasn’t been behind the wheel himself for a quarter-century (last race was in 1992; retired prior to 1993 Indy 500), Foyt has never given up on earning more wins and more IndyCar championships, even if he rides the pit box now rather than behind the wheel.

It’s been 20 years since Foyt’s last IndyCar championship, won with Kenny Brack as his driver in 1998, preceded two years earlier when another of Foyt’s drivers, Scott Sharp, shared the inaugural Indy Racing League title with Buzz Calkins.

Since then, though, A.J. Foyt Racing has had a number of ups and downs – sadly, much more of the latter than the former. As much as I hate to say it, the numbers don’t lie: Foyt’s success as a race car driver has far outweighed his success as solely a team owner.

After last season, as he closed in on his 83rd birthday on January 16, Foyt reflected back upon a season that was, again, yet another disappointment. Of the series’ 20 full-time regulars, Foyt’s drivers – Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly – finished 16th and 18th, respectively.

It continued a more-of-the-same, year-after-year trend that sadly continued to detract from the overall Foyt legacy:

* Since Brack’s fifth and final win for Foyt in 1999, the organization has seen just two wins since: 2002 (Airton Dare at Kansas Speedway) and 2013 (Takuma Sato at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach).

* Since the 2000 season, the Foyt organization has had just 12 podium finishes in 282 races, its last coming in 2015 (Sato, 2nd at Detroit).

* Since Brack won the 1998 Indy Racing League championship, Foyt’s drivers have earned just four top-10 season finishes in the following 19 years: 2nd (Brack, 1999), 4th (Eliseo Salazar, 2000), 5th (Salazar, 2001) and 9th (Dare, 2002).

In a sense, A.J. Foyt Racing had become a forgotten entity. This was not the way A.J. wanted his own legacy to end.

But that may all be changing for the good.

Matheus Leist and Tony Kanaan have brought a reinvigorated spirit and excitement to A.J. Foyt Racing. (Photo: IndyCar)

Last season’s dismal showing prompted Foyt to invest a significant amount of new capital into his organization during the Verizon IndyCar Series offseason. He invested heavily in new equipment, new cars, new personnel and new drivers, bringing Brazilian Tony Kanaan into the fold alongside countryman and IndyCar rookie Matheus Leist in place of Munoz and Daly.

Given what we’ve seen in the first two days of practice and qualifying for Sunday’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Foyt has already seen a big return on his investment: Leist will start Sunday’s race third on the 24-driver grid, while Kanaan will start 10th.

It’s not a fluke by any stretch:

* In Friday’s opening practice, the 19-year-old Leist was quickest, while Kanaan was ninth-quickest.

* In Friday’s second practice, Kanaan was again ninth-quickest, while Leist dropped to 12th.

* In Saturday’s lone practice before qualifying, Leist was back up to fifth, while Kanaan was 10th.

And then there was qualifying, and we know how that turned out. Leist out-qualified some of the best in the sport, including Ryan Hunter-Reay (6th), James Hinchcliffe (7th), four-time champion Scott Dixon (9th), 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud (11th), defending series champion Josef Newgarden (13th) and Graham Rahal (24th).

That’s pretty heady stuff for a 19-year-old kid from Brazil. But Leist showed no fear, didn’t let the slight drizzle during qualifying significantly impact him, and he drove like a veteran rather than the rookie he is.

And then there’s Kanaan, who is approaching his mid-40s but has driven this weekend as if he’s once again back in his prime. The new venue and team has definitely helped inspire him and up his game.

Some have said at 43, Kanaan should retire. Yet, Foyt didn’t think that way, signing Kanaan to a multi-year deal after he was cut loose by Chip Ganassi Racing after four seasons.

Just like his young teammate and fellow Brazilian, Kanaan not only out-practiced several big names this weekend, he also out-qualified them, as well.

And now, as we prepare for Sunday’s first race of the season, suddenly A.J. Foyt Racing doesn’t look like an also-ran any longer. It looks like not only a bonafide competitor, but also a potential winner – something it hasn’t been considered for quite some time.

Sure, three practices and one qualifying session – let alone one race out of 17 – does not a season or championship make. But given what we’ve seen thus far from Leist, Kanaan and the entire Foyt organization, there’s a great sense of optimism and excitement that hasn’t been seen for a long time.

Heck, things may get so good – and here’s hoping they continue to do so – that old Tex may want to get back into a race car himself. After all, he doesn’t want the young guys having all the fun. He deserves some once again, too.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta: How to watch, start times, schedule, entry list

AUTO: NOV 13 IMSA - Motul Petit Le Mans
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Start times, TV schedule: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will conclude the 2022 season this weekend with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta, which also will mark the end of the line for the DPi class.

The premier Daytona Prototype international category, which started in 2017, will be replaced by the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with its LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to Le Mans.

For the third time in four years, an Acura will be crowned the champion in DPi as the No. 10 of Wayne Taylor Racing holds a 19-point edge over the No. 60 of Meyer Shank Racing.

Last year, WTR’s No. 10 entered the season finale with a 19-point lead but lost the title to the No. 31 Cadillac of Action Express.

Full-time WTR drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor (who will be joined by Brendon Hartley in the No. 10 this weekend) have a series-leading four victories this season. The MSR duo of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves this weekend) won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and have five runner-up finishes this year.

Championship scenarios in the other four categories:

GTD Pro: Points leaders Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet will clinch the title by starting in their No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

–GTD: There are 140 points separating the top four teams with Roman De Angelis and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading by 45 points.

–LMP2: John Farano is first in the driver standings by 33 points over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel. In the team standings, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports leads by 19 points over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport (Farano’s team).

–LMP3: No. 54 CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead by 83 points over the No. 74 Riley Motorsports of Gar Robinson.

With the 10-hour race requiring an extra driver, several stars from other racing series have been added. In addition to Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay will serve as third drivers in Chip Ganassi Racing’s pair of Cadillacs.

Jimmie Johnson also will be making his last DPi start in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac with Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi. Petit Le Mans could mark the last start in an IMSA prototype for Johnson, who has said limited inventory likely will keep him out of the GTP category in the Rolex 24 next year.

Here are the start times, starting lineup, schedule and TV info for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (all times are ET):


Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta start times, schedule, TV info

When: Saturday, 12:10 p.m. ET

Race distance: Ten hours on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course

TV: Noon-3 p.m., NBC; 3-10:30 p.m., USA Network. Peacock, the NBC Sports App,and NBCSports.com will have streaming coverage of the event from flag to flag beginning at noon. Leigh Diffey and Dave Burns are the play by play announcers with analysts Calvin Fish, Townsend Bell, James Hinchcliffe and Brian Till. The pit reporters are Kevin Lee, Hannah Newhouse, Dillon Welch and Matt Yocum.

IMSA.com live TV qualifying stream: Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET.

IMSA Radio: All sessions are live on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com; SiriusXM live race coverage will begin Saturday at noon (XM 207, Internet/App 992).

Forecast: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 63 degrees with an 85% chance of rain at the green flag.

Entry list: Click here to see the 48-car field for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta


Daily schedule IMSA Petit Le Mans

Here’s a rundown of the Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia:

Wednesday, Sept. 28

9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

10:25 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup

12:30 p.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

1:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practcice

2 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup practice

3:30 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

Thursday, Sept. 29

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

9 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying

9:50 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

11:40 a.m.: Prototype Challenge qualifying

12:10 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

1:50 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

2:55 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

5 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 1

6 p.m.: Michelin Challenge qualifying

7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

Friday, Sept. 30

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge race

9:50 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:55 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 2

1:10 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race

3:40 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying

Saturday, Oct. 1

9:15 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:10 p.m.: Petit Le Mans