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Kellett, Bourdais To Drive Foyt’s Cars in 2021

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 17 2020

Dalton Kellett will be driving full time for A.J. Foyt and son Larry Foyt next year.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A.J. Foyt Racing is giving Canadian Dalton Kellett a full season _ and a championship-caliber teammate _ to prove he belongs in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Kellett will drive Foyt Racing’s No. 4 Chevrolet fulltime in 2021. Kellett started eight races last year in the No. 14 he shared with veterans Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais during a COVID-19-impacted 14-event season. As announced in September, Frenchman Bourdais will drive the famed No. 14 fulltime during the 17-race 2021 schedule.

The Bourdais-Kellett pairing replaces Foyt Racing’s revolving door 2020 lineup featuring full-timer Charlie Kimball and part-timers Kanaan, Kellett and Bourdais. Kellett’s ride, announced Tuesday, also officially put to rest a rumor that had Frenchman Romain Grosjean possibly headed to Foyt’s Waller, Texas-based organization after losing his ride in Formula One with American-owned Haas F1 Team. 

“I think we knew where we were headed, even middle of last year,” Team President Larry Foyt said during a ZOOM conference with national media. “It wasn’t something…I know there was an article about Grosjean, but really there wasn’t a conversation there to be honest other than, you know, kind of a ‘Hi, how are you, nice to meet you’ thing.

“I think we kind of knew what way we were going with Dalton from the beginning. It was kind of in the plan of doing a part-time (in 2020), getting him some seat time and then working up to the full deal. So this will be a really good chance for Dalton to get a full year, get more comfortable, get more seat time and then we can really see what he can do.”

Kellett’s eight-race 2020 season included seven road-course starts and the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. His best start was 20th at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Race No. 2) in Lexington, Ohio; his best finish was a pair of 20th-place runs at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Kellett started 24th and finished 31st on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, crashing out on Lap 82 of 200. He completed 570 of 700 laps run last season, with no laps-led.

Kellett logged five seasons in the Indy Lights Series between 2013-19 with 70 starts, no wins, six podiums, one pole and 17 laps-led.

“Yeah, well, the thing sometimes you see someone’s body of work in racing as they are coming up through the series and as they jump into the bigger car, you don’t know what to expect, right?” said Foyt, son of team-owner A.J. Foyt Jr. “You just have to see, OK, how is he going to adapt to the bigger tire, more horsepower _ and what we saw was he really adapted well. And he was great at looking at data, improving himself, going quicker.

“I think he can really surprise a lot of people and that’s what we see in him and that’s why we wanted to get him fulltime.”

The 2021 schedule currently lists 17 races, including a doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth in early May as a prelude to the 105th Indy 500, and a new street course in Nashville, Tenn., in August. The first scheduled team test will be in January at Sebring International Raceway in Central Florida. The 2021 INDYCAR season gets underway on Sunday, March 7, on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

“As Larry said, it (2020) was a challenging year for veterans and rookies alike, but I’m really excited to be back in the No. 4,” Kellett said. “So same team, different number. Learned a lot last year and that was with limited track time, limited testing. So being fulltime in the No. 4 car is going to be a great opportunity. I can’t wait for the season to get started.

“And I think having Seb on-board is going to be a great asset to the program. I’m really looking forward to working with him. We had a great test earlier in the offseason at Barber Motorsports Park in October, and seeing how he works with the engineers and how exacting he is with his feedback and what he wants out of the car was pretty eye-opening.”

Foyt said he is counting on Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car champion, to mentor Kellett. A 41-year-old native of Le Mans, France, “Sea Bass” brings a wealth of experience to the team via his Champ Car titles in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 with Newman-Haas Racing. His résumé includes 37 victories and 34 pole positions. Bourdais most recently drove Honda-powered Indy cars for Dale Coyne Racing from 2017-19.

“Like Dalton touched on, it’s huge to have a multi-time champion to be able to learn from in this day and age,” Foyt said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for Dalton. We’re excited.

“That Barber test, Seb has some trust in Dalton that we were able to run both cars through some different programs like a proper-two car team. For a rookie to be able to contribute to the team was really helpful.

“I think everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and different ways of explaining things. I think Seb is definitely very analytical, as is Dalton. They both bring that mindset in that’s going to be really interesting to the way they look at data, talk about the race car, and so you know, maybe even Dalton can answer to some of that. But I think they are going to get along splendidly and I think it’s a really good pairing.”

Foyt reiterated that the organization owned by “Super Tex” _ first four-time champion of the Indy 500 and the series’ all-time race-winner with 67_ is eager to shake its back-marker image of recent seasons.

“Well, we want to win races,” Larry Foyt said. “We obviously feel Seb can and we feel Dalton can, as well. Really, this is only his first year in INDYCAR. That’s a lot to ask. We’re not going to be pushing him on that. The biggest thing is let’s go, let’s keep improving. Let’s get faster and faster and I think Dalton has got the right mindset for that.

“Last year, I think he knew the situation everybody was in with COVID, with some of the races getting cut, some of the sponsorship getting cut due to that. It was tough on teams and we had kind of put him in a tough spot because it’s like, ‘Hey, we really want you to go out there and do your best but we don’t want you to be out there crashing cars,’ which rookies a lot of times are going to make that mistake.

“But Dalton did a good job to stay, to just keep getting quicker on a good pace and not overstep the bounds too much because we really needed that as a team. He’s a really good team player. That’s the thing, we have to see where we shake out as a seem with Seb leading the program and starting to get some of our…hopefully driving our setups and direction for Dalton to feel and also contribute to.”

Foyt said the team typically fields a third entry for the Indy 500, and that Kimball would rate consideration in the event he has not found a ride elsewhere.

“Yes, we really like Charlie,” Foyt said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Charlie next year. I know he’s looking at some opportunities, so we’ll just have to see where that falls. But great driver and I’m sure he’ll land somewhere, and we’ll just have to see what happens.

“We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do with our third car at Indy yet. Don’t know for certain, but we will see. But yeah, Charlie and everything ended on really good terms, and he understood what we were doing but enjoyed the year with him for sure.”

Foyt said the team wanted to focus on two cars for 2021. “But yeah, I think it’s a perfect fit,” Foyt said of the Bourdais-Kellett pairing. “When Seb came available, we felt like he did have some very good years in him. He’s very hungry right now. And also, I think for Dalton, it made Dalton more excited because I think it took our team to another level and it can help Dalton’s career immensely.

“So at the end of the day, that trumps everything, and we just think there’s a lot of potential there that people just haven’t seen yet, and we think we can get it out of him.”

Foyt added the team has “beefed up” its engineering staff a little bit and some new mechanics have come on-board.

“Just trying to field the weaknesses or wherever you feel you have a weakness,” Foyt said. “Pit stops have become so important, just from…just everything is so tight. You see the speeds and the lap times through the whole field. You cannot lose anything on pit road, you just can’t, not to mention what it does to a driver’s psyche. We all know in this windscreen (cockpit safety device), it’s hot, and these drivers are out there giving it all they can. You lose a couple spot in the pits, they will tell you about it, so you don’t want to do that.

“That’s the biggest thing as a team. Top-10s are the goal here at first and solid qualifying. I think we lacked some pace on some of the permanent road courses that we’d like to add. Outside of Mid-Ohio, I thought Dalton was doing a great job at Mid-Ohio and showing some pace there. But Indy GP and places like that, we didn’t fare very well, so we’re going to work on that.”

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2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE

Sunday, March 7 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Sunday, April 11 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.

Sunday, April 18 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif.

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio

Sunday, July 11 _ Streets of Toronto

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn.

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill.

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif.

Final 2020 NTT IndyCar Series point standings _ 1, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 537; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 521; 3, Colton Herta, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport, 421; 4, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 416; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 396; 6, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 377; 7, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 348; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 339; 9, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 317; 10, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 315.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 17 2020
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