With apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens for borrowing his title; one might expect the obligatory quote about it being the best of times or something to that effect. Unfortunately for one of the teams in the IndyCar paddock, the worst of times may be more appropriate since their drivers are currently ranked fifteenth and nineteenth in the points standings. A sample of three races is not a fair assessment of anything. Sometimes, it takes more than a couple of seasons to make a decision on whether something is working or not. That being said, it is awfully tempting to go ahead and give a thumbs-down on the two-car effort of AJ Foyt Enterprises being located in two different cities.
Most of the Verizon IndyCar Series teams are based in Indianapolis. The exceptions are Team Penske, which is based in Charlotte; Dale Coyne Racing which is located just outside of Chicago and AJ Foyt Enterprises, based in the Houston area. A few years ago, the Foyt team bought garage space on Main Street in Speedway. The thought was they could operate out of there for not only the Month of May, but also for some of the summer races located near Indianapolis in the Midwest.
Beginning with this season, Team Manager Larry Foyt made the curious decision to permanently house one of the two fulltime cars they field in Indianapolis, while the other would remain in Houston. The rationale was that it would be easier to recruit better talent on the team from the Indianapolis area than it would be to convince someone to move to Houston. Indy car technical expertise is a cottage industry in Indianapolis, since the majority of the teams are based there. I can see where it might be tough to convince a mechanic or engineer that has been in Indianapolis for years, to uproot their family and move a thousand miles away to Houston.
Plus, if they need special parts from Dallara – they have to be shipped from Indianapolis. I don’t know if there is any cooperative sharing among teams in the Indianapolis area, but it’s hard to share with a team exiled in Houston.
What they decided to do was to have the lead car of Carlos Muñoz, that carries the familiar No.14, stay in Houston. The newly renumbered No.4 car of Conor Daly would permanently move to the shop in Indianapolis. Thereby completely splitting the two teams and having them separated by a thousand miles.
When this plan was announced, it sounded iffy, at best. The main reason for having a teammate is to have a collaborative effort for the sharing of data and ideas. I think most people raised their collective eyebrows and were skeptical that such an arrangement could work.
Some of the reasons given made sense. Not only was there more potential crew talent in the Indianapolis area, but Conor Daly is already from the area and would not have to move. It was presented as a win-win.
But they are now three races in with this arrangement and the results are not good. Muñoz has shown speed at times, but inconsistently. Conor Daly has been consistent – consistently slow. He has been at or near the bottom in most practice sessions this young season. Muñoz finished dead last at St. Petersburg, but had a decent showing at Long Beach where he finished seventh. Daly finished fifteenth at St. Petersburg and sixteenth at Long Beach.
At Barber this past weekend, it was pretty much more of the same for the eastern team of Daly and the western team of Muñoz. Daly qualified twentieth and finished eighteenth. Muñoz started sixteenth and finished seventeenth. During the race itself, things looked slightly promising at first. At one time, both drivers were running thirteenth and fourteenth. Daly himself even ran as high as twelfth at one point during the day. But a poor tire strategy did in Muñoz; and a botched final pit stop and then having to save fuel at the end was Daly’s undoing.
One thing to keep in mind; there is a learning curve here for the team and both drivers. Foyt has been a Honda team since 2006 and have been running the Honda aero kit for the last two seasons, but with different drivers. Both Muñoz and Daly ran Honda engines and aero kits last year, but for two different teams.
Now you have two drivers trying to get accustomed to their new teams, engines and aero kits; while the team is trying to learn the nuances of their new drivers as well as their new aero kits and engine. That’s a tall order for the best of teams under any situation. Put their two cars in two cities a thousand miles apart from each other and it’s an almost insurmountable situation.
Putting both cars under one roof doesn’t solve the problem, but it would help. I think the unfamiliarity with the engine, aero kits and personnel is the biggest problem. We saw this weekend that there was nothing wrong with the Chevy package – at least not at Barber. But I’d like to make this clear – the problem is not the drivers either. We know that Muñoz is a fast and capable driver and Conor Daly showed a lot of promise as a rookie. This many new pieces would take a lot of time to gel at one of the big teams; probably even longer with a small team like Foyt’s.
If you’ve been reading this site for any time at all, you know what an AJ Foyt fan I am. I want his team to succeed. I think Larry Foyt is a capable leader and has a better temperament than AJ, especially when it comes to patience and not demanding instant results. So please don’t think I take any kind of pleasure in writing about their shortcomings.
But everywhere they look, they have major hills to climb; whether it’s figuring out the power band of the engine, the fuel mapping, the aero kit or each other – not to mention the distance between the two sides of the team.
I understand the rationale of getting at least one team in Indianapolis. It might be time to forsake tradition and move the No.14 team to Indianapolis as well. Chip Ganassi hails from the Pittsburgh area; Michael Andretti is from Nazareth, PA and Roger Penske is from the Cleveland area. Yet all three set up their respective shops in markets where racing is big business and the area is flush with the industry’s talent.
If Larry Foyt truly wants to make his famous father’s team competitive again, he may have a tough decision to make. That decision could require him to shutter the family garage in Houston and commit to running the organization where almost all of their competitors are located – Indianapolis. They might even find it a lot easier to solve the mystery of the Chevy aero kit and engine from there. No offense to my friends that live in Houston, but they sure won’t find the answers there.