AJ Foyt Racing began their 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season with positive results in their first test session of the year at Sebring International Raceway on Monday and Tuesday.
Four-time IndyCar Series champion Sebastien Bourdais, who will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet full-time this season, and sophomore driver Dalton Kellett, who will still be considered a rookie this year after nine starts last season, checked off all the boxes in the team’s ambitious testing plan Monday and Tuesday.
Team President Larry Foyt was pleased with the two-day session, noting, “It was a positive first test of 2021 for our team. We had a few new team members and everyone came together nicely. There were many items to get through from off season projects, so we turned many laps and the drivers gave the engineers a great deal of data to sort through.”
Bourdais tested on Monday only, but it was enough time to become familiar with his race engineer Justin Taylor who joined the team over the winter. Mike Colliver, who engineered Bourdais to a fourth place finish in St. Petersburg in October and guaranteed the team’s berth in the Leader’s Circle Club this year, is now the Technical Director overseeing both cars.
Asked about Taylor, Bourdais replied, “I think he is a brilliant guy. He’s done a lot of things, he’s very down to earth and easy to work with, so it’s a great addition on the timing stand. Mike (Colliver) has taken the role of technical director now and with Daniele (Cucchiaroni) as the super assistant–he is completely capable of being the race engineer–I think we’ve got a lot of smart guys and deep brains on the timing stand which is great. I very much look forward to working a bit closer with Justin and I think it’s going to be a great relationship.”
Kellett tested both days in the No. 4 K-Line insulators USA Chevrolet. He began working closely with race engineer Mike Pawlowski, whom he had met when the two men were at Andretti Autosport.
“Working with Mike was great,” the 27-year-old Canadian said. “We crossed paths briefly when I was at Andretti, but I don’t think he actually ever engineered on my car though – he left the (Indy) Lights program just as I was starting there – but we’ve been working well together. He’s a strong engineer that came up with a good plan and good ideas to test. I think with the changes in engineering such as bringing on Justin and having Alex (Diaz) as the assistant engineer on our car, it’s been a good working environment. With Mike Colliver overseeing everything, I think we’ve got a strong engineering platform this year for sure.”
When asked what the team accomplished, Bourdais explained, “We had some questions on dampers and part of the work had to do with damping philosophies. We did quite a few variations in that, and it was good to be able to go through all of it. I think we did validate some of the things that we had questions on, so it was pretty positive on those fronts. You always get the oddball run where you’re not sure what happened and what’s going on, but for the most part we did get pretty good reads, and it’ll give us direction.”
Working with a four-time champion whose ability to set up a car is well known in the paddock, Kellett points out that he and Bourdais have similar expectations from the car in terms of setup.
“I think we’ve had good communication, and he’s been great to work with,” said Kellett, who was on the timing stand in St. Pete and listened to Bourdais’s feedback throughout the weekend. “I think when we look at our feedback (over this test session) for the most part like 95 percent of the time, we’re on the same page, so that’s always really good. When you work independently of each other, and then reconvene at the end of the day and compare notes, it seems like for the most part we’ve been saying the same thing, which is good for my confidence. It’s good for the engineers because they know that they have two drivers that they can develop along the same lines, same set of concepts, with the same process in mind, so you don’t have the 4 car on one idea and the 14 car doing something else, so we’ll be a little more collected I think.”
Kellett, whose speed was very competitive relative to the other teams testing over the two days (Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), compared his session at Sebring a year ago to this year.
“I think the biggest thing in comparing apples to apples with the two Sebring tests from last year, I think feeling all on top of the car. It clicks really fast now that I’ve got a year under my belt with this car. I don’t get into the car and have to adapt to speed and learn the tires and all that, so I’m happy with that. Overall, I think it’s the confidence in knowing what the limit of the car is. That’s been a big improvement over the year.”
Both drivers expressed optimism about the season that lies ahead but before the NTT IndyCar Series opens, Bourdais will be on track with the JDC-Miller Motorsports team to compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona later this month.
“I have a long history with endurance racing and the big classics in the racing world,” said Bourdais, who was born in Le Mans, France where the world’s premier endurance race, the 24 Hours of LeMans, is held. The 2016 GT class winner in that event, Bourdais has also been victorious in the American rendition in Florida, saying, “I was lucky enough to win Daytona, once overall (2014) and once in GT (2017), and at Sebring (overall in 2015), so those are fun races. They are races that every professional race car driver wants to put on his resume at some point.”
Indeed, his IndyCar team owner A.J. Foyt would agree as he was a two-time overall winner in the twice around the clock race at Daytona (‘83 and ’85) and also won the 12 Hours of Sebring (’85) with Bob Wollek, a multi-time champion in endurance racing.
Bourdais continued, “Moreover, we are fairly limited in the number of test days we have in IndyCar, and sometimes you get to the start pf the season being a bit green and haven’t driven very much. When you get a 24-hour race with some pretty treacherous conditions under your belt before the IndyCar season starts, and the 12-hour race as well, so it’s never bad. There are definitely a lot of considerations that make it a plus for me to run this program and keep me sharp. Plus, I enjoy it!”
Bourdais and Kellett will test again next month at Barber Motorsports Park in preparation for the NTT IndyCar Series season opener at the picturesque road course on April 11.