PHOENIX – Tony Kanaan led A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply Racing team to the top of the leader board both days in the Verizon IndyCar Series Spring training session at ISM Raceway before dropping to third overall in combined times when the sessions ended.
As if that were not enough, Foyt entertained a special visitor Saturday evening when General Chuck Yeager dropped by with his wife Victoria and several friends to see the cars in action. Yeager was in town to celebrate his 95th birthday on Tuesday. When told of the 200+mph speeds the cars were going, the General retorted, “Amateurs! I’ve gone over Mach 3!” but he was clearly enjoying the track action and posed for photos with admirers.
In most of the practice sessions Kanaan popped up to the top of the charts first and as the team made changes to test different items on the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet, he slipped down slightly but never below the top five. His speed of 189.632mph was third quickest when the times from all the sessions were combined Saturday evening.
“It was a good couple of days,” the veteran said after logging a total of 146 laps—the second lowest of all drivers. “We tried to run in traffic a little bit at the end. It [the race] is going to be tricky, it’s definitely going to be tricky. We are still learning about the downforce, but all in all, I think it was a positive test for us. We learned a lot, we didn’t have any major problems, which that’s what we’re looking for at this team right now is just to build–build confidence and build momentum.”
Matheus “Matt” Leist found the ragged edge on more than one occasion but he was fast in his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet. He topped the rookie session on Thursday, was in the top-10 in the next three sessions when the full contingent of IndyCar competitors—23 in all–took to the track on Friday and Saturday.
“The car was good and I think we are in good shape for the race here,” said the 19-year-old rookie, who posted a top speed of 187.431mph and ran a total of 240 laps. “I have to concentrate a little bit more on my race stints. The team did a great job. The last couple laps we were running in traffic and the car was actually very good.”
He slipped to 13th in combined times when he was he was caught out by slowing cars ahead of him and had to take evasive action several times Saturday night. The first maneuver resulted in a brush with the wall and damaged a right rear toe link. Two more ventures into the marbles later that evening didn’t damage the car.
Speaking of the last incident after the session ended, Leist explained, “I made some great passes and then [Graham] Rahal just brake-checked me going into Turn 3. I went to the outside and just got into the marbles and couldn’t stop the car. Just did a small touch on the wall but didn’t break anything. But it was a great day, great learning experience.”
Leist wasn’t alone as past Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon spun and hit the wall between Turns 1 and 2 midway through the three-hour Saturday evening session and current INDYCAR champion Josef Newgarden found the marbles and brushed the wall just before the session ended. Dixon was cleared after a visit to the infield care center.
Kanaan sought to downplay the significance of his results but not the team’s efforts, saying, “It’s been a good couple of days, but that doesn’t mean anything. Next is St. Pete, and when we come back here it will be a different day, different weather, you never know. I’ll take it obviously, it’s been a really good day for us and a really good weekend like I said, but it doesn’t mean anything.”
Team President Larry Foyt acknowledged that the team still has some work ahead of them but he was happy with the team’s overall performance.
“I couldn’t be happier with the job the AJ Foyt Racing ABC Supply team did here at Spring Training in Phoenix. Obviously we had a lot of changes as a team, and the League had a lot of changes to the cars, so the guys have had to work so hard just to get here number one, but then to come out and have great pace was really satisfying. Tony showed the 14 car was very strong and Matheus did a great job as a rookie. And having a lot to learn, he certainly had some lessons and some close calls out there but it’s great that he got to experience some of those things. It’ll pay huge dividends when we come back here to race.
“This open test showed that this car is not easy to drive so the drivers are working very hard. It’s going to be a difficult race for sure. I’m just happy we got both cars out of here without a major incident and we showed some good speed. We’re looking forward to coming back to Phoenix but right now we have to analyze the little glitches we had and make sure they are fixed.”
Team owner A.J. Foyt concurred with his son’s assessment.
“I’m really happy with the way things went,” said Foyt. “This test has gone a lot better for us than it has in the past few years. Tony and Eric [Cowdin], along with some of the other new people we’ve hired, have really helped our program and it shows.”
Overall, the top five performers were Takuma Sato, Will Power, Kanaan, Newgarden and Graham Rahal.
The season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. takes place March 9-11.