Larry Foyt is the President of AJ Foyt Racing and also serves as the race strategist for rookie Matheus Leist. A graduate of Texas Christian University, Foyt called Fort Worth home for four years as he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Communications in 2000. Following are his thoughts on racing at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.
On racing at Texas Motor Speedway: “It’s certainly important, we have a lot of friends and family who come to the race. A.J. loves the high banks and a fast race track, and that’s certainly what Texas Motor Speedway is, but for us it is our home race. We’re even more excited now because after the good run we had at Indianapolis and having the speed on the oval, we feel like we’re going to have a pretty good weekend. We had a good test at Texas with Tony, so we feel like the cars should be very competitive there and show well there in front of our friends and family.”
On feeling extra pressure at Texas: “Maybe I feel a little bit. Outside of Takuma [Sato] qualifying third a couple of years ago, we just haven’t fared very well at Texas recently. With Billy Boat, we won at Texas and we were fast there but recently we haven’t had a great handle on the race track, so there’s some pressure. We know that Tony Kanaan really knows how to get around Texas – he almost won the race last year and put on a great show for the fans. Matheus being a rookie there, it is a very tough race and these cars seem particularly difficult to drive on the ovals with the aero package right now, so I know it’s gonna be tough for him. Tony, I’m sure, will be able to help Matheus out and lessen that learning curve.”
On key to having a good car: “Probably just having the right balance. It’s a track where you want to try to get as close as you can to being flat out all the way around. The car has to be working well to stay down low and run the bottom, so the front end has to work well but not get loose coming up off the corners. It’s a challenge with the new aero package. Even when we tested earlier in the year, Tony was saying it was hard even by yourself to get flat out around the racetrack, so that just shows that in traffic it’s a whole other animal. Qualifying is going to be important, but then also how you can work in traffic with this new aero kit. It’s definitely a challenge that the engineers and drivers have in front of them.”
On whether Leist’s win at Iowa in Indy Lights will help him adapt to Texas: “It’s great that he does have some oval experience, especially even coming from Indy. Certainly, Indy’s a different racetrack, not the high bank like Texas but just the experience he gained from that whole month is gonna be a big help for him. He likes to go fast which is great. He showed in Indy Lights he took to the ovals very quickly, so if we have the car pretty close for him, I think he’s going to be fun to watch and should be ahead of the curve as far as the rookies coming to Texas.”
On keeping up Tony’s podium stats (currently 50%): “We’ve got a lot of faith in the mechanics. I think our cars have been really well-built here recently. We’ve greatly improved on the pit stops, so that was something we were struggling with the first couple of races, but the guys really started focusing on their practices. We seemed to clean that up in the last two races, so it’s just important with the speeds you’re running at Texas that you can’t give up any time in the pits. We just have to execute clean pit stops and get Tony in and out quickly. He’ll do the rest and keep it up front.”
On the relationship between Tony and Matt: “When I met Matheus Leist, I knew his attitude was the right attitude and he was a driver that Tony would appreciate and respect and want to help. Matheus, while he’s confident, he’s not arrogant, which is really important. I think for a guy with experience like Tony who has some things to share if you come in and you’re arrogant about it or think you know it all already, a guy with Tony’s experience is not going to help you. Matheus has the perfect approach for a rookie and Tony’s been really helpful. It’s really helping elevate the whole team because I think Tony knows where his strengths are and Matheus is learning every time he’s in these cars. He’s already showing the flashes of the talent and the speed that’s going to come and Tony’s certainly helping us get that out of him faster. Towards the end of the season, you’re going to see Matheus have some really good runs.
On the team’s improvement: “Last year was tough because we had so many new things to learn. Having gone through that, we saw the opportunity this year with everyone having the universal aero kit, and starting from ground zero. Although everything last year was a struggle, it let us get familiar with a lot of the new things we were going to be working with. Bringing Eric in with Tony, they’re used to working with each other. That really accelerated our learning curve and that applies to the whole team. When Eric came on board, we talked about having an aggressive testing program – and it’s certainly been hard on the mechanics because every week we’re either in a simulator, at the shaker rig or doing some kind of on-track testing. We haven’t made it to the podium or won a race yet but we’re seeing the hard work starting to pay off. I’m looking forward to the second half of the season.”
TONY KANAAN on Texas race: “Texas is actually my highest average finish of all the tracks that I’ve been at. I’ve finished on the podium nine times there… we may bring A.J. the big Texas win! It will be fun. I don’t know why I’ve done well there. They’ve changed the layout of the track too. I like those types of races. Look at Indy, and those types of ovals, the mile and a halves and two miles [tracks] are something that I probably understand a little bit better. I enjoy it a lot so I can’t wait.”
MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST on Texas: “This will be my first time in Texas [at Texas Motor Speedway] so I’m excited for my second superspeedway experience. We had a great car in Indy so hopefully, we’ll have a great car in Texas too. I’m looking forward to more oval action. I’ll try to learn the track as quick as I can and try to maximize our tools and have a great weekend. [How he prepares for it] Most of the time I just watch videos to prepare myself for the races. It was like that in Indy so I’ll take some time to watch some races from the past years. But it’s a new car so you don’t know how it’s going to be in traffic, we don’t even know how it’s going to be by ourselves so hopefully, we’ll have a good run there.”
Last Race: In Detroit on Sunday, Kanaan started 22nd and finished seventh; on Saturday, he started 15th and finished 14th. He is 13th in points. On Sunday, Leist started 18th and finished 14th; on Saturday, he started 21st and finished 15th. He is 17th in points. Both teams used the same strategy in Race 1 and they split the strategy in Race 2 which helped Kanaan achieve his top-10.
Past Performance at Texas: Tony Kanaan as started on the pole at Texas, but more impressive are his finishes which includes a win 9n 2007 best start is 4th and his best finish is a win, both in 2007. In 18 races, Kanaan has finished on the podium nine times or 50% of the races. This is Matheus Leist’s first time on track at Texas Motor Speedway because the Indy Lights didn’t run at Texas. AJ Foyt Racing won at Texas officially in 1998 with Billy Boat, however, Foyt considers the 1997 winner to be Boat too although the record books show Arie Luyendyk as the winner due to a scoring error. AJ Foyt Racing’s best start is from the pole with Boat (in 1998 fall race).
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!