Preparation=performance runs in the Foyt family
By Dave Lewandowski
WALLER, Texas -- Larry Foyt doesn’t toss around “luck” – good or bad – with abandon.
“I’m one of those guys who doesn’t like to say luck a lot because I do believe you make your own luck with preparation,” the A.J. Foyt Racing team director says, “but there are some things that do fall out of your control.”
He’s referring to the spate of DNFs and corresponding lackluster results of the Honda-powered No. 14 ABC Supply car in the second half of the IZOD IndyCar Series season. In the past seven races, Takuma Sato has been sidelined four times by mechanical issues and twice by contact.
It’s perplexing and downright frustrating, Foyt acknowledges, following the promise heading into the 97th Indianapolis 500, when Sato led the driver championship standings bolstered by a victory at Long Beach and runner-up finish at Sao Paulo.
Larry Foyt“I feel like we’ve had two different seasons,” says Foyt, sitting in his office dotted with racing memorabilia at the team’s headquarters. “We started out well and leading the points going into Indy was a great feeling. As I was looking back just the other day, we still were competitive at a lot of places.
“A strong finish to get back to the kind of form we showed at the beginning of the season is important because we’re trying to keep the same group together with all the potential that is there for success. We just want to get back to where we were and start building again for next year.”
That procession starts with the Oct. 5-6 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader weekend and wraps with the MAVTV 500 on Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway.
The team, including owner A.J. Foyt, joined most others for a Sept. 24 test on the 2-mile oval in preparation for the INDYCAR World Championships. The team patriarch was granted permission by doctors to travel following surgery July 1 to replace his left hip.
“I feel like we’ve had pretty good cars on the ovals this year,” Larry Foyt adds. “We had a chance to win Milwaukee, were decent at Indianapolis, had a great car at Pocono. Takuma ran well (at Auto Club Speedway) last year. A strong finish helps your offseason. We’ll see where we’re at on a big 2-mile oval.”
Houston is only one of two racing venues that’s an easy and cost-effective commute for A.J. Foyt Racing, which is based 25 miles from the Reliant Park circuit. It will be the first Indy car race for the team in Houston, which hosted CART/Champ Car events from 1998-2001 on a downtown street circuit and in 2006 and ‘07 at Reliant Park (both won by Sebastien Bourdais).
“It’s a great place for a race; not just for us,” Foyt says. “It’s a great sports town with a lot of history and the economy is one of the strongest in the nation so it makes sense and is a great market for INDYCAR. Our sponsor, ABC Supply, has a huge presence here. We’re going to have a lot of friends and family at the race.
“We’re glad A.J. will be back with us at Houston. We hated him not being there at the beginning of the year, but when we started struggling that’s when you can lean on him. He’ll say you need to try this or get back to this.”
Accepting the challenge of running iconic team
A.J. announced in 2006 that his 29-year-old son would progressively take over the day-to-day racing business aspects, and the Texas Christian University graduate has implemented economic and performance programs over the years to help the team reach its goals. Foyt has grown in the multi-faceted role, too, in the family-infused environment.
“My role has expanded every year. When I came in, I had to re-acclimate to Indy car racing,” says Foyt, who had competed in Indy cars and other motorsports. “It was important see how things were done, analyze and see where we could improve and work to make changes in those areas. I had been down in Charlotte doing the stock car thing for six or seven years so I had to get back to Indy car mentality and learning the people again.
“That’s what really makes these things go. The cars are all pieces and parts, but your people you put together really make a difference. They are the ones to invest in. That’s where a big part of my time has gone and I’ve been very busy with the sponsors and I’m not in the shop as much as I’d like to be.”
The addition of chief engineer Don Halliday and performance engineer Raul Prados in 2012 and hiring Sato, a former Formula One driver from Japan, for the 2013 season has paid dividends. Sato’s victory at Long Beach in April was the team’s first since 2002.
“It’s nice to see some of the change you make start to play out,” Foyt says. “Whenever you’re making changes in any business or sport you hope for the best and you think you’ve made the right decisions but you don’t know until the results come. The best part is that A.J. has supported me every step.
“I’ve enjoyed the expanded role, but it’s good when things are good and it’s stressful when things are not so good. I guess that’s all part of racing.”