A.J. Foyt Racing will contest the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a revamped Generation Next driver lineup featuring 24-year-old Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly as part of a Texas-sized house-cleaning extending from the team’s base outside Houston to its new satellite shop in Speedway, Ind.
“Both of our drivers are very young and they’ve got their whole future ahead of them,” said team-owner and open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr., who turns 82 in January. “I’m looking forward to being a part of that future.”
Munoz, formerly of Andretti Autosport, will drive Foyt’s flagship No. 14 Chevrolet based in the team’s Waller, Texas, shop. Munoz, who has finished second in two of his four Indianapolis 500 starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ranked 10th in the final 2016 point standings.
Daly, who spent his first full IndyCar Series season with Dale Coyne Racing in 2016, will drive the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet. Daly, who made his series debut at the 2013 Indianapolis 500 driving for Foyt, finished second on the Belle Isle street circuit in Detroit and fourth on the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road-course in 2016.
“It’s been a busy offseason, which to me is a great thing,” Team President Larry Foyt said Tuesday. “There are many moving parts as we grow and continue to strengthen our weaknesses as a team. It’s wonderful to continue our relationship with ABC Supply and adding two young and fast drivers is exciting for our program.
“I can’t remember a time when the Verizon IndyCar Series has been this competitive from top-to- bottom, so we know we have to work around the clock this winter to meet our goals before the season starts. We’ve had a great deal of changes in a short amount of time, but the team is committed and the group as a whole is moving in the same direction. I’m looking for this positive momentum to translate to on-track results.”
A native of Bogota, Colombia, Munoz replaces Takuma Sato of Japan after a four-year run in the No. 14 car. Daly replaces Englishman Jack Hawksworth, who spent the last two seasons in Foyt’s No. 41 car.
“You know, A.J. hire young drivers,” Munoz said during a teleconference with Daly. “They want a project for a long time of period. That’s why they hire two young drivers. I also think IndyCar needs a new generation. I think the new generation is coming. Like Tony (Kanaan), Helio (Castroneves) that are getting, you know, close to retirement, even though they’re still really competitive.
“I signed with Larry. I know, because I was in Houston the whole time, a lot of drivers calling him the whole days. He asked me which one of those I have on my list I would like to be on the team. I say, Conor _ he’s a really young driver, he’s American, really talented, really good his first season and I think we going to push each other a lot. I have a good experience. He’s really fast, as well. He can be really fast in all kind of tracks. I think we can work really well together. I think we can push each other a lot. Conor showed last year, as well, that he can be really competitive, you know. I think the good thing is to push each other, but work together, always push each other.”
Munoz, a resident of Key Biscayne, Fla., has posted one victory (Belle Isle in Detroit), one pole (Texas Motor Speedway), and 23 top-10s (including seven podiums) in 53 series starts.
Daly, the son of former Formula One and Indy car regular Derek Daly, is the stepson of J. Douglas Boles, president of IMS.
“You know, Larry and A.J., they’re embracing the future,” said Daly, a resident of Noblesville, Ind. “That’s one thing that I really want to see even more teams do. I’m happy that we’ve got this opportunity, Carlos and I, at the Foyt Racing team. I think we are absolutely going to push each other.
“We want to win so badly. I haven’t experienced it. Carlos has. Carlos has won. It’s one of those things, I just think we are genuinely more hungry. We have to be more hungry to win because we haven’t experienced it yet, or as much as the veterans. They know what it’s like. We’re pushing at the absolute limit and even over the limit just to be perfect and try to get better, try and get better to take advantage of this situation.
“It’s not easy to get a seat in IndyCar. It’s not guaranteed for a long time. So we know we have to do our best every time out there. We’re both going to learn from each other. We can only get better together. I think that’s really encouraging for us as we move forward.”
Both drivers will carry the red, white and blue livery of Beloit, Wis.-based ABC Supply, which has renewed its sponsorship contract for another two years. The 2017 season will mark the 13th consecutive year that America’s largest wholesale distributor of roofing has sponsored A.J. Foyt Racing, making ABC Supply the longest active primary sponsor among teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
That’s a welcomed change of funding for Munoz, who brought sponsorship to Michael Andretti’s Honda-powered team for the past three years. Daly’s 2016 ride with Coyne’s Honda-powered team was funded by the Byrd family.
“Next year is going to be my fourth year fulltime. It’s going to be actually my first change,” Munoz said. “I have been with Andretti for the last five years, so it’s a big step of my career I think forward. Going to be totally different approach from my part, driving with this team.”
Munoz said he had options with other IndyCar teams for 2017, especially for the 101st Indy 500. “I wasn’t worried about my future. I know it was my choice,” Munoz said. “It was my choice to say, ‘I have to stop bringing the money.‘ When it’s enough, it’s enough. I will have the backing of my family next year if I was with Andretti, or the sponsor in Colombia would have been in a good position for next year to go to Andretti or another team. I say, ‘Enough is enough.’
“So, you know, finally I see the light in the tunnel. Like I said, I have improved. It’s not like I’m done, completely done. I still have to push a lot to stay in the light of the tunnel. I have to push. I still pushing really hard, to show the teams that I really deserve the position I am right now.”
Daly’s No. 4 is a bow to Foyt’s status as first four-time winner of the Indy 500. That number also is significant to Daly, whose car will be housed a few blocks from IMS. Foyt Racing purchased the property on Main Street in Speedway in October 2014.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s really cool when Larry told me that we were going to be based in Indianapolis,” said Daly, who completed his first IndyCar Series test with Foyt Racing at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway in 2012. “Obviously that helps me quite a lot because that’s my hometown. Pretty excited about that.
“Then I actually didn’t know we’d be the No. 4 until probably like just a few days ago. That was even cooler just because of the history that we have there with my stepdad, Doug, when he was running with Panther Racing, involved there. I grew up watching those guys _ Scott Goodyear, Sam Hornish, Tomas Scheckter, as well, then Dan Wheldon. It was just a cool number that meant a lot to my family. I have plenty of Pennzoil hats with No. 4 on them from when I was a kid.
“It’s just a great relationship, a great opportunity and I just can’t wait to get started. It’s my sophomore season. I know there’s so much that I learned last year that I just want to apply in this upcoming season.
“I think with Carlos, as well, the guy is incredible at Indy. He’s coming from another team, so there’s always going to be more information to learn. Hopefully we can put it all together and make it work.”
Munoz said he was honored to be driving the No. 14 synonymous with “Super Tex,” who won 35 of his record 67 open-wheel races and three of his five national titles (1967, 1975, 1979) driving for his team.
“I know for him is really important, that number, for him. He loves that number,” Munoz said. “I think A.J., when I went to Houston to join the team and everything, say, ‘There’s not a (No.) 1 driver or second driver mentality driver here, all the drivers are the same.’ I think as a team, they want both drivers to be in the front. I’ve never been a driver that’s attached to a number. I want to be the best no matter what number. I think it give me even more motivation.”
Larry Foyt, A.J.’s youngest son and a graduate of TCU in Fort Worth, will continue to run the team on a daily basis assisted by Team Director George Klotz. But the biggest voice in the room still belongs to A.J.
“I love listening to A.J.,” Daly said. “That guy’s got a story for everything. It’s always such great information. It’s just cool to hear. I mean, he’s just a legend. He knows everything about racing. It’s just in his blood. It’s in everything about him. So when A.J. is talking, for sure I’m doing a lot of listening.”
Munoz said while he has worked with Klotz at Andretti, Foyt is his boss. “It will be tough to understand him in the first place because he has the Texan accent,” Munoz joked. “But like Conor say, he has a story to tell you each time you go and talk to him, like unbelievable stories when he used to race Indy 500 with the bricks, how he make his car faster. He’s unbelievable, no? Hopefully we going to have great work together, all of us. The main goal is to go race-by-race and try to be a better team.”
This seems to be a signal that AJ Foyt Racing is looking to the future to try to rebuild their organization into a championship contending company in IndyCar competition once again.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!