Notes & Quotes: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks a few firsts for AJ Foyt Racing as it will be the first time the team is fielding three full-time cars in the NTT INDYCAR Series. Third-year driver Dalton Kellett wheels the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet while Tatiana Calderón, the first female driver to compete for A.J. Foyt since he started fielding Indy cars in 1966, will pilot the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet. The flagship No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet will have the 2021 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood behind the wheel. With Calderón and Kirkwood making their Indy car debuts in St. Petersburg, we asked them a few questions…

Q: What was your first impression of driving the ROKiT Chevrolet?

TC: “Although I had driven the car back in July 2021, it was a completely different kind of track and I felt really comfortable straight away with the baseline and car characteristics. There are a lot of things to learn and improve but I was super happy to be back in a car without power steering!”

KK: “The first thing I noticed when I jumped behind the wheel of the No. 14 car was power. The power delivery from Chevrolet is incredible. The car as a whole compared to what I have driven in the past isn’t massively different to other open-wheel cars, but if I were to take all the best attributes of every open-wheel car I’ve driven, it would come out to be the Indy car.”

Q: You both come to this series with very different backgrounds. How does your past experience help you in the transition to driving in the NTT INDYCAR Series? Can you point to specific things in other series that helped in your transition?

TC: “I think every time you are a rookie in a series it’s tough, but I feel more prepared thanks to the series I have raced in the past. When I went to Japan for Super Formula I had no teammates, I didn’t know any tracks, and we had little time to adapt to different conditions, so I’m sure that was a great preparation. With the endurance races I have done the last two years, including the 24 hours of LeMans, I have learned about fuel management and tires, and that can really help in INDYCAR as the races are pretty long and the strategy plays an important role, so managing all of these factors are important to get a good result.”

Calderón at speed in the 24 Hours of LeMans; their team finished 13th overall.

KK: “I have spent the last three seasons in the Road To Indy. The category is a support series to INDYCAR and this allowed me to race on almost all the tracks that INDYCAR will be going to this year. That’s a massive benefit and will help immensely throughout the entire year since it will take one learning curve out of the equation.”

Q: Having driven the Indy car, where do you see the most potential for growth as a driver?

TC: “I think the level of competition is incredibly high, so I feel I still need to understand the tires and changing my style a bit more to suit them. The first time we will run the red Firestone tires will be in St. Pete so we will see how we cope with them and, of course, the extra challenge that the street circuits represent for me as a rookie.”

KK: “Only time will tell. I feel very comfortable already in the car but there is still so much to learn and turn into muscle memory that many of my competitors have had 10-plus years fine tuning.”

Q: How did testing at Sebring International Raceway prepare you (as a driver) for St. Petersburg?

TC: “I think it was crucial to get a feel for the car in high fuel and long runs, and to be able to do some pit stop practice with the guys as well as some fuel saving and start to understand the degradation of the tires. Sebring is a pretty bumpy track, so it was nice to see how the car was reacting and set up ahead of bumpy St Pete. Of course, to start working properly with the whole team and new engineers is always the most important thing.”

KK: “Just logging laps is huge for my growth currently. We ran close to 300 laps between the three days at Sebring, which is a ton of testing for any driver.”

Q: Going into the St. Petersburg weekend, what is the biggest question you hope to answer?

TC: “In testing, everyone is really doing their own program and you never really know where you stand in terms of performance so I’m curious to see where we are in St. Pete and find out if we need to focus more on race pace or qualy for the season ahead. Also, to see a full distance race for me using both compounds of tires and how well I can adapt to the conditions.”

KK: “As almost all drivers would say — Is what we learned and developed over the off season going to be effective on track?”

Q; What would you consider to be a successful race weekend? What are your goals for St. Petersburg?

TC: “We need to get as many laps as possible to get all the info and experience, so for me I would like to just get a feel for where we are at in the first race and go from there to put some realistic goals in place. Of course, as a racing driver you always want to win.”

KK: “Execution is key. Making sure we maximize our practice runs and come into qualifying with a good balance will be super important. As many know, these street course weekends are very dependent on how you roll off the trailer. I feel confident that we will be towards the front, but expectations will be made as the weekend progresses.”

Q: What are you most looking forward to doing in St. Pete that is not racing-related?

TC: “To be honest, I look forward to the race so much that I can barely think of anything else. Of course, I always look for nice places to have a good coffee and healthy food, so any recommendations are more than welcome.”

KK: “I personally love the city of St. Petersburg. It’s a short drive from home for me so this allows a lot of friends and family to come out to my INDYCAR debut. I grew up near the water fishing, diving, surfing etc. in Florida with my family and given the fact that the track runs right along the Tampa bay, I feel right at home.”

Kirkwood counts surfing as part of his fitness regimen.

Q: With each of you calling St. Petersburg your home track (being based in Miami and Jupiter respectively), will you have a lot of friends and family at this race? Do you see it as added pressure or support?

TC: “It’s the closest race we have and a lot of Latino presence so for sure I’m looking forward to the extra support and energy that they bring! My family will be there as it’s a great new experience to be in the INDYCAR field. I’ll be missing my brother, but he will for sure be awake in Europe following the race. Having my family on site and more support around me can only be positive. I feel more relaxed because I have everything I need around me.”

KK: “I will have a handful of friends and family at this event, yes. Never in my eyes will I see friends and family as pressure.”

Q: You each met A.J. Foyt for the first time in testing at Sebring–did he confirm expectations or surprise you?

TC: “It was an honor to meet A.J for the first time and to thank him in person for the opportunity to drive for his team. He is a legend in the sport, and I was surprised how relaxed he is and his sense of humor is great! I hope to see him at many races this year and to represent the team in the best possible way I can.”

KK: “A.J. is an incredible person. His passion after so many years of being involved in motorsports is something very special and I hope to carry that same passion. You can see why the Foyt family lives and breathes INDYCAR!”

Calderón Fast Facts: Age 28…Born in Bogota, Colombia and is living in Miami…Began racing karts at age 9 and has competed in Formula 2, Renault Series Formula V8 3.5 (first female on podium in Bahrein-2017), GP3, European Formula 3, British Formula 3 Series (first female on podium)…Test driver for the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team for past four years…Enjoys tennis, water skiing and drinking coffee.

Kirkwood Fast Facts: Age 23…Born in West Palm Beach, Florida…Lives in Jupiter, Fla… Only driver to win championships in all three divisions of the Road to Indy ladder system…Began racing karts at age 5, moved to cars (F4) in 2016 and dominated the F4 U.S. Championship with nine victories and six poles in 20 races…Won the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 title (12 wins in 14 races) and won 15 of 17 races to claim the F3 Americas Championship…Won the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires with nine victories and five poles in 16 races (RP Motorsports)…Won 2021 Indy Lights title (2020 season canceled due to pandemic) with 10 victories, seven poles in 20 races.

DALTON KELLETT tested the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet one day at Sebring prior to this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix.

On Testing: “It felt great to be back in the car. It took a minute to get back up to speed, it can be so

difficult to just jump right back in after not driving since the end of the season. I felt comfortable right away, but it just took some time to really get clicking again as far as really pushing the car at the limit. We worked through a full plan of test items, and I was happy with the changes we made – while not everything was perfect for Sebring, we got lots of information. Really the goal of a test day like that is to build up a list of tuning options for race weekends, so it’s more important to get an accurate read on the changes in balance than it is to find the perfect ‘Sebring setup’.”

On St. Petersburg: “I love street circuits and St. Pete is a classic venue. It has everything you would want from a racetrack: good flow, technical sections, some good passing zones, and great fans! It is always an exciting start to the season, and I can’t wait to get on track. “

Goals for St. Petersburg: “Qualifying. Qualifying. And Qualifying. I’m feeling good about our street course package and would like to continue from where I felt we left off at the end of 2021. Looking at that year overall, I think qualifying was the Achilles heel, so there’s focus on improving there. That will in-turn help us in the races and it’s all about consistent, fast stints in the race.”

Kellett Fast Facts: Age 28…Born in Stouffville, Canada and lives in Indianapolis…Became engaged to Nicole Westra and they plan to wed on New Year’s Eve…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.

11th Annual Kart 4 Kids Pro-Am race: Hosted by 4-time INDYCAR champion Sebastien Bourdais, the charity event is being held at Anderson Race Park on Wednesday, Feb. 23. Proceeds from the event, which includes a silent auction of cool racing memorabilia, benefit Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Kellett and Kirkwood are among the pro drivers planning to participate. For more information:

Foyt Racing Past Performance at St. Petersburg: AJ Foyt Racing’s best start is from pole in 2014 with Takuma Sato. The team’s best finish is fourth with Sebastien Bourdais in 2020. Over the past 17 years, Foyt has fielded 24 entries and racked up 10 top-10s in starting berths including two front row starts (both with Sato). His team has garnered 10 top-10 finishes. In last year’s race, Kellett had engine woes in his first start at the track (in an Indy car) and did not finish while Bourdais placed 10th.

NBC streaming and broadcast information: NBC’s Peacock will stream Friday’s practice from 3:40 – 4:25 p.m. and Saturday’s practice from 9:00 – 9:45 a.m. Qualifying will be streamed live on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Peacock will stream the 30-minute warmup Sunday at 8:45 a.m. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be broadcast live on NBC starting at 12 noon. All times are Eastern.