IRL: A.J. IV's learning curve at Indy

IRL: A.J. IV's learning curve at Indy

It's been a steep learning curve and a character-building month for the grandson of A.J. Foyt Jr., as he tries to make the Indianapolis Motor Speedway his own personal playground at the ripe age of 18 years. Anthony turns 19 on May 25th,...

It's been a steep learning curve and a character-building month for the grandson of A.J. Foyt Jr., as he tries to make the Indianapolis Motor Speedway his own personal playground at the ripe age of 18 years. Anthony turns 19 on May 25th, coinciding with his first green flag at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the 87th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

A.J. Foyt and A.J. Foyt IV.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Since he first appeared publicly on the Indy Racing League pit road at Test in the West, Anthony has had a tough time. It's difficult to be the grandson of the most successful open wheel racer America has produced, to live up to the expectations he's carrying like a huge piece of ballast.

Anthony Foyt IV has been slow, he's crashed cars and he's had a tough time being as competitive as he'd like in this truly hot arena. With such veterans as Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Kenny Brack, Scott Sharp, Buddy Lazier, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran to contend with on a race-by-race basis - as well as a bumper crop of rookies vying for Bombardier Rookie of the Year honors - young Foyt has had to claw through each endeavor like a crab trying to escape the net.

It hasn't been easy but then, he never expected it to be. After handily winning the inaugural Infiniti Pro Series title in 2002, Foyt was named to carry the famed #14 Conseco Indy car into a changed, heightened IndyCar Series battleground. It didn't help that his grandfather changed chassis early in the 2003 campaign, moving from Panoz G Force to Dallara before the first race of the season.

And now that Anthony has qualified his #14T Conseco Dallara/Toyota, albeit in 23rd position for his birthday race, he's become the youngest driver ever to qualify for the Indy 500. Just another pound of heavy weight this young Texan, by way of Kentucky has to carry for the month of May.

"Pole Day was the toughest day I've had in racing. Track conditions were so bad," he admitted. "I had a tough first run," spinning the car just after taking the green flag to start his 10-mile odyssey. "It was quite a set-back, as we'd run so much faster earlier in the week. I was disappointed, but I took the laps," rather than change back to the #14 car and try again.

While A.J. Foyt IV had stated prior to the season that his goal was to add five Indianapolis 500 crowns to the Foyt family heritage, he's had to take a few steps back since that time. "I'm not worried about matching his achievements. It takes time and we'll have to do it year-by-year, race-by- race. People expect me to come here and do well right off the bat, but I've got a lot learning to do and it takes time." Patience like this in an 18-year-old is a welcome, if not unusual trait.

A.J. Foyt IV.
Photo by McQueeney.
While he was really looking forward to his first day of qualifying at the Brickyard after turning 228mph practice laps over the 2.5-mile oval, Anthony had to settle for an average of 224.177mph in his first try. "I wasn't ready for that wind because I didn't know what it would do to the car," he recalled. "It made a big difference. We had a good setup for the month but the wind changed it completely.

"We didn't have the car where we needed it to be for the conditions, but now we'll get ready for the race. I had been so much quicker during the month [in practice] and pretty consistent before qualifying on Sunday," Anthony said.

In the morning practice prior to qualification runs, Anthony had practiced in the high 223mph range (in his Panoz G Force/Toyota), dealing with the completely changed conditions from Friday's practice, when temperatures were in the 80-degree range and there was little wind. He knew there could be problems as he watched Tomas Scheckter whitewall the SAFER barrier in Turn 2.

Grandpa has put a lot of test duties to his grandson this month, as the elder Foyt had Anthony switching between chassis during the lead-up to MBNA Pole Day. "I've driven both of them and they're really good chassis. Both have proven to be fast. I ended up qualifying the Dallara because I was pretty comfortable in it Friday so I used it."

Taking to the track just after Buddy Rice performed his own four-lap dance, A.J. Foyt IV executed a 180-degree spin exiting Turn 2 on his first qualifying lap. He made no contact with the wall. "I was really fortunate. Every time I've gone quick I've hit something so I was really lucky out there, going backwards at 168mph [in the South Chute]. I got out and saw all four corners were intact" and was greatly relieved.

A.J. Foyt IV.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
During his complete qualifying time trial, young Foyt found himself on the rev limiter and shifted to sixth gear instead of keeping the car in fifth, as he had been told. "Definitely the wind was a factor." It was tough, having "to go back out there and start all over. You get yourself back up to speed and get your confidence back up." While he'd like to improve his position from 23rd, "that depends on what goes on [on Bump Day]. At this time, I have no plans to re-qualify."

So that steep learning curve continues for a young man who, as a child, initially thought he'd like to be a jockey, growing up at his father's Kentucky horse farm. Growing to a height of 6' pretty much scotched that, but by his teens, Anthony Joseph Foyt IV was deeply into karts and "my grandpa has been my biggest supporter, bringing me up step by step."

Working with team owner and grandfather A.J. Foyt Jr.'s strategy for the race is "a big part of my learning curve," Anthony said. "He knows this place, what the weather can do to the track and what to do with the car. Yes," he acknowledged, "I look like my grandfather. Hopefully soon I'll start driving like him."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Al Unser Jr. , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Dario Franchitti , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , A.J. Foyt Jr. , A.J. Foyt