JONATAN “JJ” JORGE joined AJ Foyt Racing this season as a driver coach and spotter for Kyle Kirkwood. Born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the 39-year-old former race driver transitioned to a driver coach in 2004 when he retired from driving, although he did two seasons of IMSA Prototype racing (2017-18). He has coached many drivers who have gone on to compete in the NTT INDYCAR Series. He lives in Tallahassee, Fla. where he met Quinn, his wife of 15 years. They have a 7-year-old daughter Gabriela. We asked him a few questions…
How did you get interested in racing?
JJ: “Being from Brazil I wanted to play soccer but I was terrible at that, so my dad bought me a go kart
when I was 8 years old. That’s pretty much how it started, something to do with my dad on weekends
that now has consumed every inch of my life.”
You used to drive race cars–which series and what was your highest achievement?
JJ: “My first race was in 1991 in Brazil and I raced karts for about 10 years all over the place. In 2000, I moved to the US to learn English and try my luck on this side of the world. Most of my racing was done in open wheel here in the U.S. and in Europe. I drove all sorts of cars… Skip Barber, F1600, F2000, F-Renault, F3, several GT’s and Prototypes as well before I retired from racing and started coaching in 2004. I came back and did two seasons of Prototype racing in IMSA in 2017 and 2018 that served as a good refresher on driving which now helps on the coaching. Aside from Karting championships, I would say winning Daytona in an LMP3 co-driving with Kyle (Kirkwood) was right up there on what I consider a cool accomplishment.”
Why did you stop driving?
JJ: “This is a great question, I fought with this answer for a long time but I suppose the first time I realized my driving career was over was when life got in the way of me working to continue to find funding for racing. That was the main reason for it, but looking back at it now, it had a lot to do with lack of guidance. Pretty much flying solo trying to make it with only family support was difficult, especially because we didn’t have a clue how the sport and the industry really worked.”
What is your most memorable experience in racing?
JJ: “You know, there are so many of them and very few of them of me actually driving a car believe it or not. So many fantastic memories from coaching and achievements with so many drivers and teams… I pretty much live for these moments that continue to happen even when things don’t go your way.”
What is the best advice you ever received as a driver?
JJ: “Two quotes that I live by were actually advice that I carry with me for everything related to racing: ‘You never lose, you either win or you learn’ and ‘Expect nothing, accept everything.’
What is your favorite track and why?
JJ: “This is a tough one but I always have been a big fan of Mid-Ohio. I really enjoy the flow of it as a driver, the way conditions change from day to day and how you have to adapt and adopt different approaches during the weekend always fascinated me.”
Which came first: being a driver coach or a spotter?
JJ: “I didn’t even know about spotting until the ovals came along kind of late in my coaching career but now it’s all mixed together as part of one thing. Started with me being really upset with the sport after I had to stop driving… I kept seeing people whom I raced with and beat move on while I sat watching. I tried getting out of racing but completely lost my identity when trying to do that. So, it started as a way to make money but it became a new way for me to get my “fix” as I get the same high from what I do now as a coach that I did when I drove. I have a company called JJRD (Jonatan Jorge Racing Development) and have tried in the past to hire coaches but for the past bunch of years, I have been a one-man band. Like anything in life, especially in racing, personality and character is everything, so I decided to just focus on what I can do rather than to try and manage others.”
How does being a former driver help you as a spotter?
JJ: “As I mentioned before, spotting came pretty late for me so I am still learning about it. I think a lot of the spotters who have been doing this for a long time and have so much experience can do just as good of a job as any coach or ex-driver in that regard. For me, having been a driver before is helpful because I can see some car behaviors that sometimes trigger a suggestion for the driver to try. Also just understanding the struggles of the driver in the car when you are fatigued and hot in there to help keep the focus in the right area with the right type of message and timing of information can be helpful.”
What are the most challenging tracks for a spotter and why?
JJ: “For me, Indy is really tricky just because it’s so large and with two spotters passing the cars from one end to the other over the radio can add some variables. In addition to that, where we have to stand is kind of awkward because you see the cars coming right at you, so to judge if someone is clear of other cars is not as straightforward as other places. The 24 Hours of Daytona is also really tough but for other reasons! I usually spot the entire race by myself, so it’s pretty challenging from the length of the race and the speed disparity from the multi-class racing is always a bit difficult to manage.”
What satisfaction do you get from a being a driver coach?
JJ: “I feel the absolutely exact same feelings I had as when I drove. I get nervous before the race, calm during it, and whatever happens after matches as well. For me, everything I do as a coach is exactly the same as when I was a driver, except I no longer drive the car.”
Whom have you coached in the past?
JJ: “I don’t know if I have enough space to name everyone in all these years, so I will stick with the ones I have helped in INDYCAR or to get to INDYCAR in the lower series: Conor Daly, Kyle Kirkwood, Pato O’Ward, Rinus Veekay, J.R. Hildebrand, Spencer Pigot, R.C. Enerson, Oliver Askew, Kyle Kaiser, Max Chilton, Sage Karam. Now Benjamin Pedersen, having done his first INDYCAR test a couple months ago, is the next one in the pipeline. I hope I’m not forgetting anyone and if I am, I’m sorry, I’m getting old.”
Jorge walks with Kirkwood and Benjamin Pedersen at Indy.
What interests/hobbies do you have outside of racing?
JJ: “I really enjoy spending time with my girls at home. My wife and my daughter, we try to spend all our time together on the rare occasions I get to come home. Aside from that, I really enjoy swimming as a form of exercise, I find it calming. I have really grown to enjoy using my simulator to work with drivers especially in the off season. It’s work but also a hobby of mine now.”
What do you do when not at a race track?
JJ: “Time with family and thinking about my next event — I have a hard time turning off from racing most of the time, so that is always a work in progress. My entire life revolves around my two passions: my family and my racing.”
What are the top 3 things on your Bucket List?
JJ: “Great question… I for sure would love to win the Indy 500 and the INDYCAR Championship with a driver in which I feel like I was a huge part of their career in terms of development. Another one on my bucket list is, I would love to be able to retire one day and spend more time with my wife Quinn. She is always holding down the fort at home while I’m out here living my dream and doing what I love. So, repaying her with more time together, perhaps some leisurely travel with her, is at the top of my list.”
Last year, the race started later and the latter portion was run under the lights. Here Kellett finishes his final stop in the race.
DALTON KELLETT seems to have good fortune in August! He celebrates his 29th birthday Friday, Aug. 19th. The Toronto native posted his career-best result in the NTT INDYCAR Series at WWT Raceway last year when he finished 12th in the Bommarito 500. He started a career-best 12th in the final street race of this year in Nashville on August 7th.
“Last year, we scored our best finish at World Wide Technology Raceway, so the No. 4 team is looking
forward to being back in St. Louis! This is always an exciting race for fans, so it should be a good show. We tested here last week, and I’m glad we had that opportunity because we worked through some setup and overall approach options that we wouldn’t have had time to do during the race weekend. I think we’ll be able to hit the ground running thanks to that prep work. The AJ Foyt Racing team will be pushing hard to finish strong on the last oval race for the 2022 season!”
Kellett Fast Facts: Age 29 (as of Aug 19)…Born in Toronto, 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 in 2015…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf. For the technically curious, Kellett posts TikTok videos (@dalton_kellett) about the race car labeled “Indy Mondays” with subjects ranging from the steering wheel to the weight jacker to cold tires.
FIRST PITCH! Kyle Kirkwood will throw out the first pitch at Busch Stadium as the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Colorado Rockies Thursday afternoon–game time is 12:15 p.m. CT. This will be Kirkwood’s first time on the pitcher’s mound — ever! He is quite thrilled about what he sees as a “cool” experience in Major League Baseball. He didn’t play baseball in his childhood; he played soccer — his father was a professional soccer player. Kyle was quite good as a youth but chose to pursue motorsports instead.
KYLE KIRKWOOD returned from a short vacation in the Bahamas after testing at WWT Raceway on Aug 11. His car will be sporting a new sponsor as the Bommarito Automotive Group is the primary marketing partner of the No. 14 Chevrolet for this race. Rebel Bourbon signed on as an associate marketing partner for this event while Sexton Properties is the major associate marketing partner this weekend. Kirkwood competed at this track in Indy Lights last year winning a pole and finishing second in both races.
“The feeling of momentum is definitely with us with an overall solid race weekend at Nashville and a very good test at World Wide Technology Raceway this past week in preparation for this weekend. This has notoriously been one of the best tracks for A.J. Foyt and I also have been very fond of this smooth yet unique oval. Based on our test, a lot of this race is won on either qualifying or strategy, so we have really done our homework to make sure we nail both of those to best of our ability.”
Kirkwood Fast Facts: Age 23…Born in West Palm Beach, and lives in Jupiter, Florida… Only driver to win championships in all three divisions of the Road to Indy ladder system…Began racing karts at age 5…Won the 2018 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 the 2021 Indy Lights championship with 10 victories and seven poles in 20 races (the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic). Enjoys surfing, deep-sea fishing, diving and golf.
Last Race: At Nashville, Dalton Kellett posted his best qualifying run of the year having advanced out of the first round. He started 12th in the race but was caught up in a multi-car wreck on a lap 25 restart. Kellett’s gearbox sensor was impacted forcing him to retire early. He placed 25th. Kyle Kirkwood started 16th and appeared to be having one of his best runs of the season as he was running in the top-10 and then the top-five for a good part of the race. However, he tangled with David Malukas, whom he was trying to pass, and both cars ended up in the wall and out of the race. He placed 19th.
The initial start of the race in Nashville which was waved off.
Past Performance at WWT Raceway: Dalton Kellett’s only start here was last year when he qualified 24th and came through to finish 12th. Kirkwood competed at WWT Raceway in the Indy Lights Series last year; he started on the front row both races (won the pole in the second race) and finished second in both events. The Foyt team’s best start is 8th (2017 – Carlos Muñoz) and its best finish is 3rd (2019 – Tony Kanaan).
The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 will be broadcast on the USA Network Saturday evening starting at 6 p.m. ET. The race will be streamed live on Peacock Premium as will qualifying on Friday at 4:15 p.m. ET. The INDYCAR Radio Network will also broadcast the race.