Gordon Kirby

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AJ Foyt racing’s resurgence

It’s been coming for a couple of years under the leadership of AJ Foyt’s youngest son Larry, and it came to fruition at Long Beach where Takuma Sato scored a superb IndyCar victory. It was AJ Foyt Racing’s first win in 11 years and its maiden victory on a street circuit confirmation that the four-time Indy 500 winner’s team is seriously back in the game this year, with Larry having taken over the day-to-day running from his legendary father.

“It was fantastic, a tremendous day for the team,” said the irrepressible Sato, with a grin. “In the first two races we showed great performance. We had good speed and in Long Beach there were no mistakes, no errors. The qualifying performance was solid and in the race the car was just perfect. It was so much fun to drive and I could manage both sets of tyres, primes and options.

“The race just kept coming to us. The team’s strategy was perfect and I’m just so proud of everyone and the job they are doing.”

After racing in Formula 1 for seven years between 2002 and 2008, Sato moved to IndyCar in 2010 with KV Racing and switched last year to Bobby Rahal’s team. During the Indy 500 he famously challenged for the lead going into the final lap, only to crash into the retaining wall. This year Sato has a new home with Foyt.

“I really like this formula,” he adds. “The gap in the field is so fight. It’s so close. As drivers, we have to take advantage of everything we can. What is nice in IndyCar is there are so many actions you can do on the track. I love it.

“So I’m really glad, really pleased to have come here. I owe a big vote of thanks to Jimmy Vasser for giving me such a great opportunity [with KV] and now of course to AJ. Hopefully this is just the start. We have a strong package and we hope to continue to be competitive and race for wins.”

Larry Foyt raced karts and Formula 2000 cars before graduating from Texas Christian University, then drove stock cars in the ASA and NASCAR, competing in the second-tier Nationwide Series in 2001 and ’02 and the premier Sprint Cup series in 2003 and ’04. He also competed in three Indy 500s in 2004-06 before deciding to join his father’s team in the autumn of that final year as its new director of operations.

AJ celebrated his 78th birthday in January and Larry will take over at some point as president of AJ Foyt Enterprises. He’s carefully massaged the team, bringing in veteran engineer Don Halliday last year, and agreeing with his father last winter that Sato had the hunger and desire needed to get the team back into the winner’s circle. Larry discussed the work he’s done to get the team back to the front of the field.

“I always had hopes and plans of coming back and running our team, or keeping it going for as long as I can he said. “When my driving career wasn’t going too well, Dad called me and said, `I’m getting older and if you really want to keep this thing going maybe you oughta think about coming home and really starting to learn the business And that’s what I did.

“I didn’t want to come in and make a ton of changes right off. I just kind of observed and slowly started to make some changes. Really, my dad and I work together a lot. I hardly make any decisions that I don’t discuss with AJ.”

Foyt is delighted with the close relationship his father enjoys with veteran engineer Halliday. “AJ is the kind of person whose trust you have to earn,” he says. “Once you have it, you’ve got it, and I think Don got it very quickly. Don and AJ get along great. They work well together. He knows how smart Don is and once AJ trusts you like that, you’re golden.”