Notes & Quotes: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

A.J. Foyt will be traveling to the final two races of the NTT INDYCAR Series, having only attended half of the races run so far. Indy’s first four-time 500 winner has had some health issues (heat stroke) but he has been watching the races on TV this season. And he doesn’t always like what he sees. We asked him a few questions…

How is your health these days?

A.J.: “I guess it’s alright…I feel pretty good lately.”

Why are you coming to California races?

A.J.: “It’s the end of the year, and I want to see what’s going on for myself. I want to be able to evaluate everything.”

When was the last time you were at Laguna Seca?

A.J.: “Probably the last time was in 1995, my last year in CART [IndyCar Series]. Before that I raced out there twice, and ran second in a Scarab to Bruce McLaren in a sports car race (Oct. 20, 1963). And then I ran an Indy car race but I don’t know where I finished, I might have fell out.” [He competed on Oct. 16, 1988 on the newly configured course but dropped out after 17 laps with gearbox troubles.]

Foyt ran second in the Scarab at Laguna Seca in October, 1963. Bruce McLaren won the race. (Dave Friedman Photo)

What did you think of the “Corkscrew” (the downhill turns 8 and 8a where cars descend nearly six stories in less than 500 feet of track)?

A.J.: “It wasn’t that bad really, you just had to be prepared for it.”

Looking at the starts and restarts this year, there have been some crazy accidents. Where do you think the problems lie? Any ideas on how to fix them?

A.J.: “On some of those crazy starts, whoever causes them needs to be penalized. The penalties they give them now is nothing, maybe a stop-and-go in the pits or put them to the back of the field; they need to penalize them for a race or two—that’ll make them stop and think.”

The start of the Portland Grand Prix as the cars approach Turn 1. (INDYCAR Photo)

Drivers are starting to approach some of your records – like Helio Castroneves joining the 4-time 500 Winners club and Scott Dixon shooting for a 7th title. What do you think about that?

A.J.: “Records are made to be broken and with the equipment they’ve got now, it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone win Indy five or six times. Castroneves really worked hard to win it, he deserved it. Records aren’t going to last forever. But you also have to think about the cars these days, they’re so much better than they were in my day, like the durability of the motors and gearboxes. You didn’t have a button to push to come off [a turn] in fourth, fifth and sixth, you had to manually shift it yourself, and use a clutch. Nowadays, you’re just using the throttle and turning the steering wheel, so it’s a lot different driving the cars today. But talking about Dixon, he’s very competitive and he doesn’t get excited. Even if they’re outrunning him, he’s still running the same pace and that’s what puts him up front usually at the end of the race. I think he’s a very smart driver, he doesn’t get excited and he’s real smooth.”

Chip Ganassi, who owns Scott Dixon’s car, shares a laugh with Foyt at Indy.

Did you ever have a championship battle going down to the last race?

A.J.: “Yes in 1967. It was out in Riverside, California on the road course. I went off the track to miss a wreck and I still got hit out there, so I ran back and got in Roger McCluskey’s car and beat Mario Andretti for the championship.”

Had you arranged to get in another car prior to the race if you had trouble?

A.J.: “I did in case I needed one.”

They don’t allow that anymore, right?

A.J.: “No, they don’t let you do a lot of things. Now they tell you what kind of tires you’ve got to run (primary and alternate tires on road/street courses). It’s not like racing used to be. I won a race with Goodyears on the front and Firestones on the back.”

Did you get in trouble for that?

A.J.: “I was under contract with Goodyear, but like I told them, Firestone chased them all night long. That was in a sprint car. I was on the pole at Indy and went out to the Fairgrounds to run the Friday night before the 500.”

There are some new young winners in IndyCar—more so today then there have been in the last 10 years. Why do you think that is?

A.J.: “They’re good race drivers, but if you put them on a dirt race track, they wouldn’t even make the show. They’re used to running the road courses. They’re familiar with these types of cars [open wheel formula] a little bit and they’re used to this type of racing, which is the biggest thing.”

What would you consider a successful Western Swing?

A.J.: “Naturally to be successful, it would be to win but if we run good out there, I’ll be happy. We’ve won at Long Beach, so we know what it’s like to win. It’s a hard race track, a lot of people crash out there. It’s kind of like Portland, you knew on the first lap there was going to be a crash.”

Do you think the drivers have a different temperament these days?

A.J.: “No; the one thing about racing now, the cars are about a thousand percent safer, so they don’t really think about getting hurt. It’d be a lot different if a lot of them spent a little sheet time in that hospital and think more about it.”

Foyt’s Indy 500 ring has four diamonds on the flagstaff signifying his four wins. His right arm bears the scars from his accident at Michigan in 1981.

DALTON KELLETT (No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet) will be competing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in an Indy car for the first time, but he did race there in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series with a best finish of sixth in 2019. In 2019, he competed in IMSA and won his class (LMP2).

Kellett: “Laguna is definitely one of the most historic and iconic tracks on the calendar. I’m so excited

that we get to race there. I’ve had the chance to drive there in the Road to Indy and IMSA, but never in an Indy car. I’m sure the Corkscrew section will be very exciting!

“The track surface tends to be low grip, the asphalt is relatively polished and the sand from the run-offs can get blown on the track, so it is a challenging place to get right. With lots of mid-speed corners, having a balanced car that can roll good apex speeds will be important. It’s a short and intense track, the racing should be exciting!”

Kellett Fast Facts: Age 28…Born in Stouffville, Canada…lives in Indianapolis; bought his first house there in May, 2021…Graduated from Queens University with a degree in Engineering Physics…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet) has only competed at Laguna Seca three times with his best start coming in 2004 when he won the pole driving for Newman-Haas Racing. His posted his best finish – seventh – in 2019 driving for Dale Coyne with Vasser-Sullivan.

Bourdais: “Next round, Laguna Seca, obviously a really tough track. Very, very tricky, slippery, very old surface that hasn’t been repaved, the last time was 2006! So pretty rough, very aggressive on tires, big tire degradation. Lots of elevation change, camber, off-camber, wheels hanging off in the Corkscrew. A big challenge technically and a big challenge for the engineers to try and figure out a way to get the car to comply and at the same time have enough downforce and platform control that it’s a workable car for the driver. So always a lot of head scratching over there but a big and interesting challenge. We did work quite a bit as well at this one on the simulator. I think we did kind of come back to some of the conclusions that they and I had seen before during our last visit in 2019. So, it will be interesting to see if we land on our feet and get a competitive car right away off the truck and we’ll go from there.”

Bourdais Fast Facts: Age 42…Born in LeMans, France…lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. …Married to Claire, has two children, Emma and Alex…Ranks sixth on INDYCAR’s All-time Wins list with 37 victories and ranks seventh in career poles with 34…Ex-Formula One driver (2008-09)…Won 12 Hours of Sebring this year; has won Rolex 24 at Daytona overall (2014) and Petit LeMans…Finished second overall in 24 Hours of LeMans and won in the GTE class with Ford in 2016.

Past Performance at WeatherTech Laguna Seca: Kellett competed at Laguna Seca in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires with a best start of fifth and best finish of sixth. Bourdais won the pole in 2004 and his best finish was seventh in 2019. AJ Foyt Racing’s best finish was eighth with Mike Groff who also posted the team’s best start of 11th (both in 1992).

Last Race: At Portland, both Bourdais and Kellett, who started 12th and 24th respectively, maneuvered their way through the Lap 1 Turn 1 chaos for significant gains: Bourdais restarted fifth and Kellett 13th. Kellett had an electrical issue halfway through the race forcing him out while running 12th. Bourdais’s strategy, which appeared it would pay off with another top-10, went sideways when the yellow flag waved halfway through the race (ironically for Kellett’s electrical issues as well as Callum Ilott’s problems). On lap 90, Bourdais made contact with Oliver Askew which resulted in Bourdais dropping from 16th to 20th. In the laps remaining, he did pick up two spots to finish 18th.

The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be broadcast live at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. Qualifying will be broadcast on NBCSN on a delayed basis Saturday night from 11:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. ET. Peacock will stream practice on Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET, on Saturday at 11:45 a.m. ET and Sunday morning starting at 12 noon ET. It will stream qualifying starting at 5:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.