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Race Report: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 10, 2022)–Rookie power! The ROKiT rookies were the top-finishing rookies in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Kyle Kirkwood scored his first top-10 finish of the season with his 10th place showing in the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet while Tatiana Calderón finished 16th in the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet in just her second start in the NTT INDYCAR Series.

Larry Foyt congratulates Kyle Kirkwood as crew chief Didier Francesia looks on.

Starting on the softer alternate (red) tire compound, Kirkwood lined up 12th on the grid and ran there until his first pitstop on lap 28 to switch to the harder primary compound tires. Following that stop he moved into 11th and ran there until his next stop on lap 55 when he again took on the primary compound tires. After that stop he moved into the top 10 and briefly held ninth when Marcus Ericsson hit the wall on the lap 66 restart following the crash by pole sitter Colton Herta in Turn 9. Helio Castroneves snuck by Kirkwood the following lap and the rookie settled into 10th. In the closing laps of the 85-lapper, he had to fend off charges from Felix Rosenqvist but Kirkwood held his own.

Race engineer Mike Colliver shakes Kirkwood’s hand post-race as Scott Harner looks on.

“The race went exceptional for us at AJ Foyt Racing,” said the 23-year-old Floridian. “It’s a sweet ‘win’ for us because we’ve had a couple of finishes we didn’t want with the pace we had. Today we had the pace and we were able to show that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make some passes happen but we got into the top-10. We were absolutely solid on the red tires. I felt like we could make some passes but everyone was a little too bunched up in the first stint to make that happen.

“Once we went to the black tires, we were able to run with everyone else who was in front of us but it was a bit of a fuel-saving game, so we were all kind of sitting in limbo,” he continued. “The restarts here are just so tough because you come out of the last corner and it’s a massive accordion effect. You can’t make passes happen into Turn One. It’s so tight between the walls to make the passes anywhere else. It’s just so difficult. We’re right there with the big dogs and we’re right there with the big teams. We were quick today and we showed that. All we did was go forward. It was solid points for the team. I’m super happy and everyone is smiling.”

Tatiana Calderón breaks out in laughter following her run. Her sister Paula, who is also her business agent, shares in the happy moment as crew chief Shawn Ford looks on.

Calderón made real progress after her first race in St. Petersburg in February. Starting 26th today, she avoided the mistakes that saw eight of her fellow competitors in the tire barriers and the unforgiving walls on the 11-turn, 1.96-mile street circuit. Her 16th place finish made her the second highest finishing rookie of the six that were in the race.

“I’m really happy with the steps we have made since St. Petersburg,” said the Colombian native. “I feel much more confident in the car, even on pit stops and making little adjustments and learning how to deal with the tires better. I’m really thankful for the team. They did a fantastic job. Of course, we want to be fighting more people in the next couple of races. The steps we took were huge and I’ll carry that confidence into Barber.”

Dalton Kellett passes Devlin DeFrancesco at the start of the race.

Unfortunately, the one driver who wasn’t all smiles after the race was Dalton Kellett whose race ended early in the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet.

“I got a little deep into the brake zone for Turn One and carried too much speed through the entry to the corner, got wide and hit the barriers,” said the 28-year-old Canadian. “I was trying to shift into fuel-saving mode and kind of misjudged it on the brakes.”

“It was a decent day for AJ Foyt Racing here in Long Beach,” said Team President Larry Foyt. “Happy for Kyle Kirkwood and the 14 ROKiT team, achieving what we know will be the first of many top-10s. Tatiana showed great progress in only her second race to finish p16. Bummed for Dalton as his race was just getting started when the contact put him out but many drivers had some issues on this tough street circuit.”

Josef Newgarden waged a tight battle with Romain Grosjean to come out on top and win his second straight race of the season, and gave Team Penske and Team Chevy their third straight victory. Following the top duo were INDYCAR champion Alex Palou, Will Power and Pato O’Ward.

The teams will head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for an Open Test on April 20-21. The next race will be the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on May 1.

The ROKiT team heads back to the paddock after the race.

Qualifying Report: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 9, 2022)–Kyle Kirkwood proved to be the fastest of the rookies in qualifying for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Driving the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet, he transferred out of the first round as he did in his NTT INDYCAR Series debut in St. Petersburg in February. He will start 12th in tomorrow’s race.

“We had a pretty good qualifying,” Kirkwood said. “Our goal was to get into the top 12 and over into Q2

and we transferred, so happy with that. Of course, we wanted more once we got into the fast 12 but, unfortunately, we just didn’t have the pace to make it happen. I felt like I had good laps and the car balance was good. We executed everything perfectly it’s just unfortunate we didn’t have the pace there at the end. Super happy with the performance and where we’re starting tomorrow. Definitely got good company around us. Pretty much it’s McLaren, Ganassi Penske and Andretti in front of us. We’re there, we’re in the mix, so hopefully the strategy plays out. The weather should be similar tomorrow so looking forward to it.”

Dalton Kellett, who will be making his second INDYCAR start here at Long Beach, will start 24th in the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet.

Dalton chats with his race engineer Mike Pawlowski.

“Starting p24 is not really where we want to be rolling off the grid tomorrow but it’s a long race so there’s lots that can happen,” said Kellett. “We know we have a good race car here from when we were here around six months ago, at the end of last year. We had a solid car for that race so I feel optimistic for that. Overall, still pretty happy with our progression throughout the weekend. I feel we’ve made the car better and definitely, compared to the rest of the field, we’ve tightened the gap from last year, so we’re on the right trajectory. We just have to keep executing on those points and it should be good. I think we’ve got a good chance to move up in the race tomorrow so looking forward to that.”

Tatiana Calderón was impressed with the layout of the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit. Unfortunately, the amount of red flags in both practice sessions made it difficult for her to find a rhythm but she did make progress. She will start 26th in the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet.

“With the limited track time we had in free practice due to all the red flags, we decided to do red-red (Firestone’s softer alternate tire compound) just to have a bit more feeling with the car,” said Calderón. “Most people did black-red (the black tire is the harder primary compound). I think we did a few changes from free practice to qually (qualifying) that I felt really comfortable with the brakes and a little bit with the bottoming (out), so I gained a lot of confidence. I wish I had another set (of tires) because I think I was just getting up to speed and closer to the other guys, so I’m quite happy with that. There’s obviously more to come and hopefully we can find a good compromise in the warmup and keep learning during the race.”

Colton Herta won the pole and set a new track record with his lap time of 1 minute, 5.3095 seconds, nearly a full second faster than the old record set in 2017. Rounding out the Firestone Fast Six were: Josef Newgarden, Alex Palou, Felix Rosenqvist, Alexander Rossi and Romain Grosjean.

The teams have a 30-minute warmup session in the morning to run with full tanks and tweak their race setups. The 85-lap race will be broadcast on NBC starting at 3 p.m. ET.

Notes & Quotes: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

Didier Francesia, crew chief of the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet, has led an interesting life. Born in Paray Le Monial, France (near Lyon and the Magny Cours circuit), he started as a mechanic professionally in 1987. He worked his way through a variety of motorsports from Formula Renault to Formula 1 and eventually INDYCAR. Always smiling, Francesia has lived through some tough times too: two days after his father died, Francesia was burned after a gas explosion at a friend’s home. He went rock-climbing three weeks later! However, he has had some good times too like last year when he crewed the car that Castroneves drove to his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. We asked him a few questions…

Q: What sparked your interest in racing and how did you get your start?

DF: “I started to race motorcycles when I was a teenager, then I raced rally cars briefly. I always loved speed and anything that goes fast.”

Q: Which series have you worked in and who among drivers have you worked with?

DF: “Formula Renault, Formula 3, Ice racing, Formula 1, Indy Lights, Champ car, Indy car, Sports car, Baja Trophy truck. The Drivers list is VERY long, so I’m just going to name a few. F1: Thierry Boutsen, Andrea De Cesaris, Alain Prost, Roberto Moreno, and Juan Pablo Montoya. In IndyCar: Dan Wheldon, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, and Helio Castro Neves.”

Didier smiling back in 1991 at the South African Grand Prix.

Q: What are your goals with the AJ Foyt Racing team?

DF: “Goals for AJ Foyt racing are to win a few races this year and to become a championship contender in the next five years.”

Francesia handles the airjack during pitstops (pictured at rear of car).

Q: What race are you most looking forward to with Kyle and the No. 14 ROKiT team in the 2022 season and why?

DF: “Long Beach, Toronto, and, of course, the [Indy] 500. Long Beach because it’s a California race, and my heart will always be in California. Toronto, because it’s missing on my ‘palmarés’ [record of achievements], and the 500 because it would be so cool to win back-to-back.”

Q: You recently moved from California to Waller, Texas, what has that been like?

DF: “I lived in a few places in So Cal, mainly the Beach (Ventura) and the Mountains. I was in Lake Arrowhead the last five years, it’s a beautiful little mountain village. Living in Waller has been good so far, I like small towns and country living. It’s a little flat though, LOL.”

Q: What is your most memorable moment of your career thus far? Or top three?

DF: “Memorable moments? I can’t pick only one. Top 3: Qualifying P6 in F1 in Phoenix with one of the smallest teams in 1989 (driver Alex Caffi for Scuderia Italia which fielded Dallaras). Driving a chase truck, and doing pitstops at the Baja 1000. And, of course, the last lap of last year’s [Indy] 500, and climbing the fence with Helio.”

Francesia standing (fourth from right side) with his Baja 1000 crew.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced?

DF: “Greatest challenge for me has been to move to different countries without speaking the language properly or at all, lol. I worked in England, Italy, Austria and ended up in Texas hahaha.”

Q: What are some things on your bucket list?

DF: “Racing wise: Pikes Peak and Bonneville [Salt Flats] Speed Week. Personally: Rope swinging off a huge rock face or off The Arch in Utah. I also would love to fly a jet pack.”

Three weeks after suffering serious burns (see below), Francesia was rock climbing.

Q: Do you get back to France often? If so, how often and where do you visit?

DF: “I don’t go back to France as much as I should, about every 4-5 years. mom is getting old and I’m gonna try to go more often.”

Q: What interests do you have outside of racing?

DF: “Snowboarding, surfing, anything that resembles a skateboard/long board, mountain biking, and, of course, motorcycles–my oldest passion for sure.”

Q: If you didn’t work in racing, what would you be doing?

DF: “I would probably work for Hollywood again building movie cars and props. I did that for a bit and it was super fun.”

Q: You have so many tattoos, so many stories – tell us about that ink!

DF: “Tattoos, I don’t have many, it’s only one by now lol!” First tattoo? “I was 18 — a little Ferrari horse on my shoulder.” Favorite? “The next one.” Tattoo with the most interesting story behind it: “I don’t know if it’s the most interesting, but when I got the bottom of my foot tattooed, the guy said you want a tattoo there???”

The train tattoo evolved from his younger days when he got involved in the occasional brawl. One recipient of Francesia’s right fist said, “It felt like I got hit by a train.”

Q: Do you have a personal motto?

DF: “My personal motto, I’m not sure if you can publish it, it’s ‘Don’t be a dick’.”

Q: What is something that few people know about you?

DF: “The people who really know me know that I love animals more than I love humans.”

Francesia and his fiancée Sybil have four dogs, all rescues: Sasha and Vega (pit bulls) and Bonnie and Clyde (German Shepherd and Husky mix).

Q: Have any pet peeves?

DF: “People who think they know everything. I still learn every day and I hope it never stops.”

Q: Do you have any advice for new mechanics entering the industry?

DF: “Hmmm… Stay humble, listen to the older guys, some of them at least lol, and stretch–your back will hurt later in life, lol.”

TATIANA CALDERÓN returns to the cockpit of the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet after sitting out the race at Texas Motor Speedway where teammate J.R. Hildebrand competed as Calderón is not racing on any ovals this season.

TC: “It’s been a long time since St. Pete and I can’t wait to be back in the car after a long month away! It’s going to be my first time in Long Beach and I have also never been to L.A. so there’s lots of on and off track discovering to do over the week. The track looks super fun to drive and it seems most drivers love it so I can’t wait to see how it feels in reality! I have done a lot of simulator work, watched plenty of onboards in preparation for it with the team, so hopefully this will help us get up to speed quicker in Free Practice. I think I learnt a lot in the first race weekend, I had plenty of time to digest everything from St. Pete and there is plenty of work to be done. I expect another big challenge this weekend but one I definitely relish.”

Calderón Fast Facts: Age 29…Born in Bogota, Colombia and now 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 podium)…Test driver for the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team for past four years…Enjoys tennis, water skiing and drinking coffee.

DALTON KELLETT will make his second start in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in the No. 4

K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet. A main focus this year is improving his qualifying runs which he has done in the first two races of the year. He posted his best qualifying run to date in St. Petersburg, starting 14th, just behind teammate Kirkwood.

DK: “I’m excited to be back at a street circuit this weekend. Long Beach is one of the classic events in the IndyCar calendar. It’s a great track to drive and the event as a whole, both on TV and at the track, is really exciting for the fans. The layout has a good mix of tight and open corners and there are some opportunities to pass. From a technical perspective, I think we have a couple good setup directions from St. Pete that we will be looking at here. Continuing with the goal of focusing on qualifying, we’ll be working up to that throughout the first two practices, so we can put ourselves in the best position for a good start to the race.”

Pay it forward! Kellett will visit a small cadre of 25 exceptional students interested in STEM careers at San Pedro High School on Thursday to talk about his racing career and encourage them to pursue their STEM studies. On Friday, Kellett and his race engineer Mike Pawlowski will address 150 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) students from the Long Beach Unified School District in the Long Beach Convention Center prior to practice. Inspiring students to pursue STEM careers is a personal passion of Kellett’s. Since 2018, he has worked with Ten80 Education’s National STEM League (NSL), as their brand ambassador. The NSL is an international K-12 engineering design competition using remote-controlled cars. He supports the teams, representing them in INDYCAR and engaging with them at their competitions and through online learning materials.

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.

KYLE KIRKWOOD is also making his first start at Long Beach driving the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet.

Kirkwood advanced out of the first round of qualifying in his first street course event in St. Petersburg and led laps in his first ever race at Texas Motor Speedway.

KK: “I really love street courses. Long Beach will be all new to me this year with the Road to Indy never going while I was a part of the series. I have comfort up against walls and I feel that getting up to speed quick is one of my attributes, so I don’t think lack of experience will hurt us this weekend. We’ve shown great pace in the first two events this year with no justified result, hopefully third time is a charm for us this weekend in Long Beach.”

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, 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.

Past Performance at Long Beach: Dalton Kellett made his debut at Long Beach last September and finished 19th. AJ Foyt Racing’s best finish came in 2013 when Takuma Sato won after starting fourth, also the team’s best start. The team has five more top-10 finishes.

Last Race: At Texas Motor Speedway, J.R. Hildebrand brought home the team’s best finish of 14th. Dalton Kellett finished 17th and Kyle Kirkwood’s promising run ended while battling Devlin DeFrancesco resulting in Kirkwood being pushed up and hitting the wall just before halfway.

The race will be broadcast live by NBC on Sunday, April 10, at 3 p.m. ET. Qualifying (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET) and practice sessions (Friday, 6:15 p.m. ET, Saturday, 11:45 a.m. ET and Sunday, 12 noon ET) will be streamed live on Peacock Premium as will the post-race show. The INDYCAR Radio Network covers all on track sessions (race, qualifying and practices) which will air live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 160, and the INDYCAR App.

Race Report: XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway

NO LIMITS, Texas (March 20, 2022)–The hometown team had a tough time in the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon but they left the track counting their positives.

Rookie Kyle Kirkwood who hadn’t raced on a superspeedway before today proved to be a quick study as he carved through the field from his 23rd starting spot into the top 10 in 25 laps. He was one of the few drivers to use the second lane on the track.

By lap 64, Kirkwood and his veteran teammate J.R. Hildebrand, who started 25th in the No. 11 ROKiT Chevy, were running one-two but that was due to being off strategy from the leaders.

Kirkwood pitted for a second time on lap 68 and despite having a smooth stop, he dropped to 17th but worked his way back up to 14th before the lap 99 caution for the contact between Takuma Sato and Devlin DeFrancesco which sent Sato into the grey area in Turn 2.

Pitting on lap 103, Kirkwood slid long into his pit — he’d had a lot of build-up of “rubber marbles” on his tires–and by the time the crew adjusted, Kirkwood lost a couple spots. He rejoined the race behind DeFrancesco and on the restart, Kirkwood tried to implement a passing strategy that worked earlier in the race.

Taking the outer lane, Kirkwood was poised to make a pass after the restart on lap 113. However, DeFrancesco pushed up and Kirkwood was sent to the grey area in turn 4 and spun and pancaked the wall with the left side.

“Unfortunately, we ended our race a bit too early,” Kirkwood said afterwards. “Making some passes

happen, we came through the field at one point from the mid-20s up to the top 10, we were actually leading for a few laps off strategy so super happy with the team, the No. 14 car was just amazing. Unfortunately, we got caught out by some of the sealer at the top of the track. I was racing hard with Devlin on a restart, and I just ran out of track because when you get into that PJ1, the car just sets sailing and that really caught us out today. So super unfortunate but super happy with our performance. Everyone knew we were here, we were contenders at this race and we’ll just carry that momentum – not from us crashing–but the momentum from how well our pace was into Long Beach.”

Hildebrand, who was steadily making his way through the field and was running 11th for a good part of the race, dropped off the pace in the closing laps due to an issue with the front wing which caused him to lose downforce and he ended the day in 14th.

“It was just kind of a fight back day for us,” said the 34-year-old Californian. “We had some issues

yesterday, didn’t qualify well, but figured out what we were battling with the car after the final practice session; there was a little bit of an inconsistency with the setups with the way the car was put together. So going into today, in some ways, it felt a little bit like first practice all over again. So we knew what we’d had to work with but we hadn’t really made any progress with the car through the practice sessions yesterday. Got out there today and the car felt pretty good, it felt racy, we were able to make it go really long on fuel and the car was underneath me for all of this. Beyond that we were trying to be opportunistic, make moves where we could and outlast guys. That was really the name of the game at the end of the day. We managed to do that and came away with a pretty solid finish given where we started, and onto the next one.”

For Hildebrand that will be the Indianapolis 500 as Tatiana Calderón will be back in the cockpit for the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Dalton Kellett, who had the best qualifying run of his teammates yesterday, had the most struggles with his car today after starting 22nd. Each car moved up a spot on the starting grid because Santino Ferrucci replaced Jack Harvey who crashed heavily yesterday in practice. He did not pass the concussion protocol to be cleared to drive today.

Kellett, who made seven pit stops, was philosophical and found some positives from what had to be a

long day in the office. He finished 17th in the K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet.

“Overall, our pace wasn’t really where we needed it to be in qualifying,” said Kellett. “I think we made

improvements from last year, the car was definitely better in race trim than we were last year, so there are positives to take there. Not the weekend we were hoping for coming out of here but we got a lot of good data, we did try some stuff that will be beneficial to us the rest of the season. Obviously, it was a shame for the way things ended for the 14 car for Kyle and ROKiT, no one ever wants to see a teammate taken out. I hope he’s feeling alright after that hit. We’ll just have to take the lessons from this weekend and try to find a bit more pace in qualifying because track position is so important.”

Scott McLaughlin had dominated the race, leading 186 laps of the 248-lapper, only to lose out to his teammate Josef Newgarden as they drag-raced to the checkered when McLaughlin got caught in traffic. Rounding out the top-five were Marcus Ericsson, Will Power and Scott Dixon.

The team will test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course on March 31. The next race will be the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach which will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, April 10.

Qualifying Report: XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway

NO LIMITS, Texas (Mar. 19, 2022) — Canadian Dalton Kellett topped his teammates in qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon and will start 22nd in the 27-car field. He posted a two-lap average speed of 219.038mph in the No. 4 K-Line Insulators Chevrolet.

It is the second straight race that Kellett improved his qualifying run over last year which has been a goal this season.

“I think we definitely made an improvement from last year, but we’re definitely not starting where we’d

like to for the race,” said Kellett, who started 23rd out of 24 cars in race 2 last year (the race 1 grid was set according to points). “Track conditions are going to be super important and I think it is still going to be tough to pass even with the adjustments to the downforce level and the high line testing they’re doing later, so we’ll have to be a hundred percent sure our race car is good to go and that we’ve got a good car for the long run. (We) Have to make good calls on the strategy and execute well, don’t make mistakes, be good in the pits. Those things will be the most important things for us to focus on during the race and take opportunities as they come.”

Qualifying for the XPEL 375 left the Foyt team wanting more but Kyle Kirkwood is confident about his car for the race. He was quick to point out that he believes he has a good “race” car for tomorrow’s race on the 1.5-mile superspeedway. Kirkwood posted a two-lap average speed of 219.013mph and will start 23rd.

Kirkwood was the only Foyt driver to test at the track earlier in the month, not counting J.R. Hildebrand’s “shaking down” the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet for the rookie at that test.

“I think the qualifying run that we had was good, there were no mistakes made,” said Kirkwood who

will be making his first start here. “We went with the car that expected it to be but for some reason we just didn’t have the pace. I’m not sure why, we’ll have to dig through the data to understand what that was but regardless I think we’ve got a really good race car. We were able to fight with the guys when we were here testing, I was able to pass a couple guys on track earlier today in practice, so hopefully that translates over to the race. We have another practice s that will be the true teller of where we actually set for the race. Qualifying is one thing but the race is completely different.”

Hildebrand, who had an issue that cut his practice time in half (compared to his teammates), qualified 26th with an average speed of 218.584mph.

“Obviously not where we’d like to be starting the race but we’ll look into it and figure out what we’ve got going on,” said the veteran who is making his first start here since 2017. “Between all three cars, we didn’t really find the performance that a lot of the other teams have. We’re not the only team that couldn’t figure it out either, so that’ll be something that maybe is less relevant for tomorrow, but good for us to do a little research into it so we can figure it out.

“Now it’s all about getting the cars tuned up for the second practice here so we can feel good going into the race,” he continued. “It’s going to be a tough race tomorrow, conditions are going to probably be kind of lousy just with the wind but for us at this point that may be something for us to lean into for a little bit. It’s not going to be great for anybody out there. If we can just outlast people, if we can keep our heads about us and be smart throughout the race, that usually counts for something in these situations, so looking forward to that. It’s going to be a grind for us but sometimes that’s why you show up, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Felix Rosenqvist won the pole with a speed of 221.110mph. Scott McLaughlin, who won the season opener in St. Petersburg, was second. Rounding out the top five were Takuma Sato, Wilk Power and Scott Dixon. The XPEL 375 will be broadcast on NBC starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Notes & Quotes: XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway

Grant Weaver joined AJ Foyt Racingin January as Team Manager. Born in Atlanta and now living in Indianapolis with his wife Joyce, the 64-year-old has won championships with nearly every team he has worked on. He brings extensive experience to the Foyt team with 41 years in racing. He spent 26 seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing where he won the George Bignotti Chief Mechanic award in 1994 and two years later was named Crew Chief of the Year by Racer Magazine. He was the Senior Team Manager from 2003 through 2019, during his time with the team, they won four Indy 500s, plus 108 more races, 12 IndyCar championships plus a class win in the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2016. As a Boy Scout Leader for 23 years, Weaver helped over 45 boys become Eagle Scouts, including his four sons. We asked him a few questions…

Q: What got you interested in racing and how did you go about pursuing it as a career? What were the first races you attended in person?

GW: “I watched racing on and off but not as a real fan. In June of 1973, I was on a summer trip with my DeMolay group and saw the Monaco Grand Prix on TV. I was hooked. Later that year I went to the SCCA runoffs at Road Atlanta, it was the first racing event that I attended. I wanted to be a driver, but my back pocket was not very deep. So, I thought if I cannot drive them, why not work on them. I hounded John Paul Sr. until he gave in and offered me a job. I did drive Formula Fords for fun after I got married. Until we had kids, then the superfluous money dries up and I have not been in a racecar since 1987. “

Q: What does your job entail in the shop and then during race weekends?

GW: “During the week, I oversee the assembly of the race cars, ensure that we have the parts we need and that the cars are assembled to the engineers’ specs, work with Scott (Harner) to put the crew guys in the right positions for success, work with the engineers on current and future goals, and work with the Indy guys and the Texas guys to ensure all cars are assembled the same. During the race event, I work to ensure that we are ready for the event, from the mechanical side to the pits to working with the engineers and chief mechanics to have a successful weekend. During the race I call the strategy for Dalton Kellett in the No. 4 K-Line Chevy.”

Grant Weaver (R) is race strategist for Dalton Kellett. Weaver checks out data on race engineer Mike Pawlowski’s computer.

Q: What other race positions have you held before joining this team (including series and teams and years there)?

GW: “I started out as gofer (go for this, go for that), truck driver, entry mechanic – JLP Racing – IMSA (1 Year), then worked as a mechanic and truck driver for Cooke Racing in IMSA/LeMans, at Group 44 in IMSA I went from mechanic to car chief to crew chief in five years, spent five years at Cole Performance where I was mechanic then car chief in Formula Atlantic, Indy Lights and CART. In 1994, I went to Chip Ganassi Racing as a chief mechanic, became a sub assembly manager and then team manager working in CART, IRL, IMSA and LeMans. After 26 seasons, I moved to Pratt Miller Engineering as their Operations Manager in 2020 and worked in IMSA and WEC in 2020 and 2021.”

In the Team Ganassi shot with Jimmy Vasser, Weaver is to Vasser’s right with sunglasses and hat.

Q: What is the most significant achievement in your career so far? Did it change your perspective?

GW: “I have been lucky enough to have been on championship winning teams at most of the places that I have worked. The first two teams there were no championships while I was there. At all the other teams we had championship seasons, I have been a part of over 25 championships in total, plus well over 200 victories. Probably the biggest championship was as chief mechanic for Jimmy Vasser in 1996 in CART. Being named Racer magazine Crew Chief of the Year that year also. Being honored with the George Bignotti Award in 1994, ranks up there also. Winning Le Mans in 2016 for Ford was pretty big. Did it change my perspective, in a word – no, I am as hungry for success today as when I started.”

Weaver’s collection of championship rings.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

GW: “The most challenging aspect is bringing very competitive, talented individuals together to reach a common goal in a very competitive environment.”

Q: What’s your favorite track to race at and why?

GW: “Of course, it is the Indy 500 – Biggest race in the world! Favorite track to go to was Surfers Paradise in Australia – just loved the atmosphere.”

Q: What do you enjoy (hobbies) outside of racing?

GW: “Current hobby is traveling around with my wife. It can be a big trip or a small trip, just a lot of fun to see different places with her.”

Family Vacation (L to R): Alex, daughter-in-law Susie and her husband Andy, Grant and his wife Joyce, Geoff and Matt.

Q: What’s one thing about you that may surprise people?

GW: “I am pretty black and white, so I do not know if there is much that people do not know about me once they spend some time with me.”

Q: What do you enjoy about working with young drivers?

GW: “At my age, all drivers are young!”

Q: How do you deal with the frustrations inherent in racing?

GW: “As Scarlett O’Hara said in the wonderful movie Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.” I do not dwell in the past, I look for the success that the future will bring. Learn from the past mistakes and make today better.”

Q: What is the best part of your job?

GW: “Winning! I enjoy the feeling from a group pulling together toward the common goal of excellence on the track and off the track, which in the best circumstance puts the car in victory lane.”

In this shot from LeMans, Weaver is second back behind drivers on right side.

Q: Who has been the greatest influence in your life?

GW: “Well of course family especially my wife would / should come first. Those that have guided me in my faith. The folks I was privileged to work with during my time as a Boy Scout leader. The folks many years ago that mentored me as I learned this trade.”

Scout Leader Grant with his wife Joyce and Eagle Scout sons (L to R): Alex, Andy, Matt and Geoff.

J.R. HILDEBRAND will compete at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time since 2017–

when he finished 12th for Ed Carpenter Racing. His best finish in five starts is fifth in 2012 for Panther Racing. He will run the oval tracks this year in the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet as a teammate to Kellett and Kirkwood.

Q: It has been five years since you raced there—how long will it take to get acclimated?

JRH: “With the schedule the way it is, only getting one hour-long practice before qualifying, it’s going to be important to get up to speed right away. It was great to get in the car even if just for a few laps when Kyle did his rookie test a couple weeks ago, so at least I got a bit of a sight picture for the place the way it is now and we have some recent data and video to work from.”

Q: Does your IMS experience help or are the tracks too different?

JRH: “Running Indy the last few years in between my races at Texas does definitely help, if only to be familiar with the differences in the car. The last time I ran at Texas we were running the very efficient and high downforce aerokit cars still, which are definitely a different animal compared to today. So I’ve gotten to feel that transition over the past few years at the Speedway, all the way down to some of the little aero bits and pieces we’ll be allowed to play with at Texas this year.”

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

JRH: “I think the biggest challenge, at least initially, is going to be understanding where we can operate for qualifying and executing at that trim level. At Indy you get a fair amount of time to gather data, and it’s pretty clear when you’ve over-stepped. In my experience that’s tougher to do at Texas, in part because of how much less time we have to prep.”

Q: What are you most looking forward to about your return to TMS?

JRH: “I’m looking forward to it being a grind! It’s a really tough race that requires you to be mentally very engaged the whole time, often dealing with far less than ideal handling characteristics and traffic situations. I’m hopeful that we can find a good balance and make some headway as the race progresses.”

Hildebrand Fast Facts: Age 34…Born in Sausalito, California and lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife Kristin…has competed in 66 IndyCar races with 17 top-10s including seven top-5s. In 11 Indy 500 starts, he has four top-10 starts and four top-10 finishes.

DALTON KELLETT ran in two races at Texas Motor Speedway in 2021 but only finished one

(18th) because he was taken out at the start in the second race along with then teammate Sebastien Bourdais. It will be his third start on the 1.5-mile superspeedway.

DK: “I’m excited to be back racing in Texas, it’s the hometown race for the Foyt team! Being the first oval of the year, I’m excited to be back to that type of racing. IndyCar has made a slight downforce increase for this year, so we will have to see how that affects the racing and if it opens up the second lane at all. I think it will still be somewhat difficult to pass, so we are definitely focused on qualifying. Starting with good track position always makes it easier! From there, we’ll need a stable and predictable car in race trim to able to make some moves and race for a good finish for the #4 K-Line Chevy.”

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.

KYLE KIRKWOOD tested the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway on March 2nd. It will be his first ever race at Texas Motor Speedway.

KK: “I believe the XPEL 375 will be a great event for us as a team, we have the very experienced addition of J.R. Hildebrand for the ovals and a lot of new people with new ideas on how to get our cars as quick as possible. We’ve been fortunate enough to have one full day on track at Texas Motor Speedway in the past few weeks with the new aero changes and feel we have the car in the right window for the race. Conditions are looking to be the same as the test. So, if everything is still the same, we will have three very competitive cars on the grid.”

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, 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.

Fulcrum Technology Solutions returns as an associate sponsor for the race weekend in Texas. Located in Houston, Texas, Fulcrum Technology Solutions is a consulting firm that specializes in managed IT infrastructure and cybersecurity services. While managed Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) and Security Operations Center (SOC) solutions are the fastest growing part of their business, they continue to provide premier professional services and products to their longstanding clients.

A.J. Foyt will be at the race this weekend. Foyt missed the season opener in St. Petersburg while battling a severe cold.

Past Performance at Texas: Foyt’s team won this race with Billy Boat driving in 1997 but after a protest, the race win was awarded to Arie Luyendyk by officials who cited a scoring error. In 1998, Boat started alongside pole winner Tony Stewart and won the race. Boat’s teammate Kenny Brack finished third and went on to win the title that year. J.R. Hildebrand’s best finish is fifth in 2012, Dalton Kellett’s best finish is 18th in 2021, and Kyle Kirkwood will be making his first start at this track.

Last Race: At the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the race strategy did not work in the team’s favor as Kirkwood finished 18th after starting 12th, Kellett started 14th but placed 25th after mechanical issues sidelined him and Calderón placed 24th after starting 25th.

NBC will broadcast the XPEL 375 Sunday afternoon starting at 12:30 p.m. On Saturday, practice and qualifying will be streamed live on Peacock.

Team Manager to Concierge, Weaver can do it all with a sense of humor.

J.R. Hildebrand Signed to Drive the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet on Oval Tracks in 2022

J.R. Hildebrand on the A.J. Foyt Racing timing stand during a recent test at the Texas Motor Speedway (Photo Courtesy of Penske Entertainment- Joe Skibinski)

INDIANAPOLIS (March 11, 2022) — J.R. Hildebrand has been signed to drive the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet on the oval tracks in the NTT INDYCAR Series this season. The 34-year-old Boulder, Colorado resident will share the car with Tatiana Calderón, of Bogota, Colombia, who is driving the No. 11 ROKiT Chevy on the road and street circuits.

“I’m excited to have this opportunity to get back in the car, do a little more racing, and work with the AJ Foyt Racing squad again,” said Hildebrand. “Although the results may not have looked special on paper, I was really impressed by what we accomplished last year at the 500 and look forward to attacking these other ovals on the IndyCar schedule alongside Kyle and Dalton.”

The first of five races for Hildebrand will be the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday March 20. He will also compete in the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hy-Vee doubleheader at Iowa Speedway in July and the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway in August. 

Last year, Hildebrand signed with AJ Foyt Racing to drive the team’s fourth entry in the Indianapolis 500 with sponsorship from Foyt’s longtime sponsor ABC Supply. He qualified 22nd and finished 15th, the highest finisher on the four-car team. 

“We had a great experience working with J.R. last year, and there is no doubt he is very competitive at Indianapolis,” said Team President Larry Foyt. “He is still very motivated to drive Indy cars and is a setup-savvy, technical driver who will be a strong addition to our oval races this year.” 

Hildebrand scored his career best finish of second as a rookie in 2011, the Centennial Running of the Indianapolis 500. It was a bittersweet finish for the then 23-year-old who had taken the lead with two laps to go. Passing a lapped car, his car pushed high and tapped the outside wall which slowed him enough to allow Dan Wheldon to win the historic event. In 11 Indy 500 starts, Hildebrand has qualified in the top-10 four times and posted four top-10 finishes.

The 2009 Indy Lights champion has started in 66 INDYCAR races and claimed 17 top-10s including seven top-5s, three of which were on the podium. 

The XPEL 375 will be broadcast live on NBC starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. Qualifying will be held on Saturday and streamed on Peacock starting at 2 p.m. ET.

A few notes from TSO

  • Hildebrand has made 66 previous NTT INDYCAR SERIES starts across 12 straight seasons between 2010 and 2021.
  • The No. 11 will be the 10th different number the Hildebrand has competed with in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
  • Hildebrand has made four previous starts at Texas Motor Speedway, with the best finish, fifth, in 2012. His last start on the 1.5-mile oval came in 2017.
  • Hildebrand has made 11 previous starts on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, three previous starts at the Iowa Speedway bull-ring, and one previous start at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway.

Race Report: Firestone GP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Feb. 27, 2022). — Small victories…you have to take them where you find them. In this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, there were a few for the AJ Foyt Racing team even if the final results don’t reflect them.

Qualifying proved to be one of the bright spots as both rookie Kyle Kirkwood and veteran Dalton Kellett put themselves in the top half of the 26-car field. In the race, they showed good pace in the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet and No. 4 K-Line Insulators Chevrolet respectively in the early going around the 1.8-mile street circuit. With a lot of new faces in new places, pit stops also went well. Plus rookie Tatiana Calderón, the only female driver confirmed to compete on the road and street courses this season, crossed the finish line under the checkered flag in the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet in what proved to be a grueling test of physical endurance.

Kirkwood started 12th, pitted early on lap 10 to shed the softer Firestone alternate compound tires in favor of the more durable primary compound tires as did Kellett who started 14th and pitted on lap 12. Following the stops, both drivers dropped down in the field as other teams utilized a two-stop strategy which in the end, proved the way to go due to the long yellow brought about by rookie David Malukas’s crash on lap 25. It necessitated a wall repair and the extended caution period favored those drivers whose plan was just two stops for the 100-lapper.

After the other teams pitted for the first time during the caution, both drivers vaulted into the top 10 for the lap 33 restart with Kirkwood in sixth and Kellett in ninth. They remained there until pitting eight laps later which dropped them down the order again.

Kellett’s race was cut short at the halfway point when a mechanical issue forced him to the pits for an unscheduled stop. The crew made some adjustments to address the issue and Kellett rejoined the race, albeit 10 laps in arrears. The issue surfaced again so the team parked the car and a disappointed Kellett took the long walk back to the garage after posting one of his most competitive drives since he joined the NTT INDYCAR Series.

Strategist Grant Weaver talks to Kellett whose race was cut short due to mechanical issues.

“Not the finish we were looking for,” the 28-year-old Canadian said. “We had really high hopes and expectations coming in from our best qualifying in INDYCAR so far, so I have to commend the No. 4 K-Line Insulators Chevy team for that performance. That was a great day on Saturday – really happy with how it went. Obviously, we were wanting more in the race but suffered a mechanical issue and will figure out what happened there, diagnose that, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s part of the process and learning how to do this better every weekend and that’s all we can ask for. Just got to keep grooving and take the positives from this weekend and go into Texas.”

Kirkwood found himself running with the likes of Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud for most of the race but towards the end he had to aggressively save fuel and lost a position to Felix Rosenqvist. Kirkwood placed 18th.

Kirkwood does post-race de-brief with (L to R): race engineer Mike Colliver, race strategist Scott Harner, Sébastien Bourdais and Chevrolet engineer.

“I’m super happy with the outcome of everything,” said the 23-year-old Jupiter, Fla. native. “I think this weekend there’s a lot of new moving parts going on, along with myself, and everyone executed. Yeah, we were on the wrong strategy and we got hosed by a caution but that’s part of racing. We showed this entire weekend that we have pace and we showed pace in the race with the ROKiT Chevrolet. We ran right there with veteran drivers like Newgarden and Pagenaud. I was super happy with that. I was thrilled I kind of ran Newgarden down at one point so I couldn’t ask for anything better than that to be honest for my first ever race. It’s just unfortunate we were on the wrong strategy but we were on the right strategy until the caution came out.”

Calderón was the first to admit that the race was her toughest with a capital T but she felt she gained

a lot of insight from the experience. Although she finished 24th, she is determined to come back stronger at the Long Beach Grand Prix in April.

“It was the toughest race physically of my career,” said the 28-year-old Colombian rookie. “Obviously, a hundred laps with only one caution was quite hard but I think we managed to get a feeling for both tire compounds. I did a few mistakes running out of road and a few things but sometimes you have to learn the hard way. But I was happy to cross the line to get a bit more information, a bit more fitness for what’s coming next. And to know where I need to improve as well and where I can maybe help with the balance of the cars, so I’m quite happy with all that information. Hopefully, we can come back to Long Beach and push harder.”

Pole sitter Scott McLaughlin swept the show to claim his first career INDYCAR victory and gave Roger Penske his second straight victory–the first coming last weekend in the Daytona 500 with Austin Cindric. McLaughlin fended off reigning NTT INDYCAR Series champion Alex Palou as well as Will Power, Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean.

Team President Larry Foyt said, “It was a tough race day after a really good weekend leading up to today. We were hoping for some better finishes. On the 14 car, the strategy didn’t pay out with the way the long yellow fell due to the wall repair–it definitely hurt the strategy the 14 and the 4 were on. And it’s unfortunate the 4 car had a mechanical problem and couldn’t finish the race. Kyle and Dalton were really happy with their cars and it looks like we have a pretty good street course package. We believe that will continue throughout the year. Both guys did a really good job and drove really hard.

Tatiana did a nice job in her first INDYCAR race, and she made it to the finish. It was definitely the toughest race she’s ever done, so I think she learned a lot and will keep improving from here. We have to look at the positives, we showed good pace in qualifying, now we just need to put the whole weekend together.”

Small victories lead to big ones.

Qualifying Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Feb. 26, 2020) — Qualifying for the AJ Foyt Racing team went well from everyone’s perspective including the team patriarch who is in Houston recovering from a bad cold. “I’m really happy for everyone–I thought all of the drivers did a great job today,” said A.J. Foyt.

Kyle Kirkwood made his NTT INDYCAR Series debut by making it past the first round of qualifying in the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet while Dalton Kellett barely missed transferring to Round 2 in his No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevy. Driving the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet, rookie Tatiana Calderón continued to make steady progress throughout the practice sessions by shaving off seconds from her lap times with each session.

Kirkwood, the only rookie to transfer out of Round 1, will start 12th after posting a lap time of 1 minute, .2616 seconds (107.531mph) around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street circuit. Four-time INDYCAR champion and two-time St. Pete race winner Sébastien Bourdais came out to the track to help Kirkwood this weekend.

Two-time St. Pete winner and 4-time INDYCAR champion Sébastien Bourdais was on hand to advise Kyle Kirkwood this weekend.

Kirkwood, the 2021 Indy Lights champion, posted a short video on social media, saying, “Just finished up my first ever qualifying in INDYCAR and made it into the top 12. I’m super ecstatic with that. We had a car that could have been potentially in the Fast Six, but unfortunately, on the one lap that you get with red tires, I just didn’t pull it off. I was trying to get more out of it than I’ve ever done before and pushed my brakes points a little bit further, and unfortunately, it kind of caught me out and I brushed the wall coming out of Turn 9. No real damage to the car but after that point, I just played it safe. We ended up 12th overall. Super happy with that, it’s right in the middle and we can make up some ground from there.”

Kellett, who has been saying in pre-season interviews that his goal was to improve his qualifying performance took a major step today by posting his best qualifying start ever in his relatively short career of just 24 races. His lap time of 59.9521 seconds (108.086mph) will put him 14th, in row 7 alongside Alexander Rossi and just behind teammate Kirkwood.

The 28-year-old Canadian also posted on social media, saying, “First qualifying of the year with the No 4 K-Line crew. We had a great run with our Team Chevy. Great day to be out racing here in St. Pete at the Firestone Grand Prix. I think we really hit the nail on the head from a setup standpoint.

“On the Firestone blacks, the car was a little free and then when we went to reds, it really came to us, he continued. “You just have that one lap to get it done and we got a quick lap in so starting 14th tomorrow. It’s my best ever INDYCAR qualifying, so I’m really excited for that. One of the goals this year was to improve our qualifying performance. With the importance of track position during the race, it’s really key to get a good starting spot so I think we’re in a good spot for tomorrow.”

Calderón, the 28-year-old Colombian with a resume of wide racing experience from Europe to Japan, will start 25th in the 26-car field after posting a lap time of 1 minute, .9391 seconds (106.336mph). Calderón, competing on the road and street circuits this year, recently moved from Madrid to Miami.

Tatiana Calderón was happy after qualifying. Looking on (L to R) are Cordell Durcholz (assistant engineer), Paula Calderón (sister and business agent) and Larry Foyt.

“Pretty happy with Day 2,” said Calderón. “We keep making steps forward. I’m quite happy with my qualifying balance. I think we found a little bit more where I’m comfortable with the red tires as well. They came in really quick and I was happy to explore the extra grip that they gave me so I’m looking forward to the first race tomorrow.”

Calderón in her “office.” Her helmet features the butterfly she’s run for the past several seasons, and new for this year, an American flag as she is racing in America.

Team Penske’s sophomore-year driver Scott McLaughlin won his first career NTT P1 pole award and to make it even more impressive, he stole it from his teammate Will Power, a veritable pole master who’s won 63 poles in his career. McLaughlin posted a time of 59.4821 seconds (108.940 mph) to Power’s 59.6058 (108.714mph). Rounding out the Firestone Fast Six were: Colton Herta, Rinus Veekay, Romain Grosjean and Simon Pagenaud.

Team President Larry Foyt summed up the official start to the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series by saying, “It was a great start for AJ Foyt Racing. We faced some huge challenges growing from two to three cars, and everyone pulled together to make it happen. Having Kyle be the top qualifying rookie and making round 2 was a nice result. Dalton almost advanced and has done a great job with the limited off-season testing time. Tatiana closed the gap every session and made huge gains in qualifying. All of the rookies face a challenge with their first time qualifying on red tires and she learned a lot. Tomorrow should be a fun race and it’s amazing to see how competitive and exciting INDYCAR is in 2022.”

The 100-lap Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be broadcast live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network starting at 12 noon ET.

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.

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