- Max Chilton, Gallagher Carlin
- Rinus Vekay, Ed Carpenter Racing
- Dalton Kellett, AJ Foyt Racing
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to Day 2 of our INDYCAR Content Days. Thank you, everybody, for being here yesterday. Our first guest, first driver, is Mr. Max Chilton, driver of the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet. Max is driving the road and street courses and the Indy 500, if I’m correct.
MAX CHILTON: Correct.
THE MODERATOR: Max, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.
MAX CHILTON: Thank you for having me. I know it’s early morning over in the States. Obviously the way the world is, it was a bit of a challenge for me to get out for the Content Day just on itself. Thankfully INDYCAR have allowed me to do this from home in the UK.
THE MODERATOR: What’s the outlook for this year? How are things looking for you and for the team heading into 2021?
MAX CHILTON: Yeah, so it’s really exciting to be back with Carlin. This is our fourth year. I know I say it every year, but I do think we’ve learnt a lot last year. Last year was a huge challenge, probably more challenging than our first year if I’m honest because it was our first year of just running as a single-car entry.
Also the way the world was, we got very little testing and everything logistically and organizational wise was a challenge. I think we’ve done a great job considering and we’ve done more of a development program over this winter than any of the other previous.
So I am confident that the car has improved. I’m also confident that I’ve improved in myself. I’ve taken on a sports psychologist, I have started doing weekly simulator sessions, changed my training a little bit, just to try and stir things up and see if it helps because there’s just as much time in myself, the driver, as there is the team.
Hopefully those two things combined we can regularly get into the top 10 and hopefully once you are regularly in the top 10, you get the odd podium. It’s just at the moment we’ve struggled to get those regular top 10s. We’re looking forward to going into this year with a bit more confidence.
Q. What was it like last year, not only as a race driver but as a human, just to kind of cope with the ever-changing nature of the schedule and really of the world due to the pandemic?
MAX CHILTON: I think it’s humankind in general, but obviously particularly sports, athletes. You have to be open to things constantly changing. You can’t predict the future, so you have to adapt and learn to change your schedule at the last minute and just be prepared for whatever is around the corner.
I think everyone learnt last year, even in just general day life, that you didn’t know what was coming from one month to the next.
I think INDYCAR did an amazing job. We only had a couple of months’ delay and then we were back at it. It was a real shame not having the fans there last year, but it’s really great to see we’re going to have the fans back at Barber and then St. Pete, so that’s a really good sign.
The INDYCAR interaction between the drivers is fantastic. Just watching Romain Grosjean’s Instagram the last few weeks, he’s really sort of enjoyed that open book that the drivers have which from where he came from is a little bit different. Yeah, hopefully he’s enjoying that American side of just access all areas.
Q. I’m curious, you said the way the world is right now, it was difficult to get to the U.S. Could you not or was it just too many hoops to jump through for Content Days?
MAX CHILTON: We could have got there, obviously, because I’m going to get out there for the racing, but the challenges are just for one Content Day, I would have to get a negative test 72 hours before I fly, then I would have to obviously do the Content Day, then I would have to find a negative test before flying back to the UK, and then once I’ve gotten back into the UK, I would then have to quarantine in my house for 10 days before leaving.
Training wise on the buildup to the season I didn’t think it was worth it for a Content Day when I can do these Zoom calls and we can get the photos done at the track nearer the time. Thankfully INDYCAR were open to allowing that to happen.
Q. You mentioned you’re seeing a sports psychologist. I presume that’s new this year?
MAX CHILTON: It’s new for this year as in the person that I’m using. I have used a sports psychologist for five or six years. I did have a year off, but I’ve changed the person now, and I’m getting on with them really well.
They’ve got a great proven track record. She also works with Jack Harvey, so I know Jack has made some good gains in the last couple of years.
It’s nice to just have a different approach to it than I’ve had before. We’ll see. A lot of it’s about preparation. I’ve always known it’s about preparation. We’re doing more simulator sessions. I’ve now got a new engineer this year called Luke Mason. He was my strategist last year and he now hosts the simulator sessions. And he’s actually a very keen sim racer himself. We can practice against each other, which I think is just practice and seat time.
Q. Is the sports psychologist mostly helping you with preparation, how you prepare yourself?
MAX CHILTON: Yeah, basically sports psychology, that is the main part of it. It’s not necessarily going, You’re the best and you’re just going to go out and do better because let’s face it, you’re not going to go out and do better because you think you’re better than you are.
It’s all about getting fitter, better nutrition, about organizing your engineers to have more communication so you can then push the team forward more. And then by doing those things, the simulator sessions going better, the training going better, you then start to believe in yourself more, which then changes the on-track experience.
It’s not very much like, Look into my eyes and you’re the world’s greatest. That’s a very old-fashioned look at sports psychology.
Q. I wanted to follow up on that, as well. I was curious about the psychology aspect. Is it sort of just more — makes you more efficient and more organized? Is that sort of the goal, what you’re saying?
MAX CHILTON: Yeah. It also, when you’ve been in motorsport, I’ve been in it for 20 years and I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to say you become a little bit complacent thinking you know what you need to do and you actually end up not doing what you not need to do because you’ve done it so many times before.
But you look at these young kids that have just started off in the series and they’re doing everything to try and improve.
It happens just in everyday life. As you get older you become a little bit complacent. It’s just checking in with what you should be doing compared to what you have been doing and moving forward.
I think we’re now talking more communication-wise between myself and my engineer, and we’re practicing more, which hopefully that leads us in a better stead going into the season.
Q. I know you said it tongue in cheek about it’s not the look into my eyes thing, but I think when people think of psychology that’s what they think of. Is there a little bit of a stigma in motorsports when drivers say they’re doing this, and are more drivers doing it than we realize?
MAX CHILTON: I don’t think it’s talked about a lot. From what I’ve learnt and speaking to people, most drivers on the grid have a sports psychologist. I don’t know why it’s not more open, but I’ve always been open book about it.
Even when I was in F1 I remember doing — we always on a Thursday did a press conference with five other drivers, and I mentioned that I did visualization. So when I was having like a massage before getting in the car, my masseuse, who was also my PT, would start a stopwatch and I would have to visualize a lap, then I would say ‘stop’ and look at the time and see how close we are.
Sometimes, not every time, regularly I was within the second, but sometimes I’d get it within the same tenth of a second that I’d then go out and qualify.
That stuff, that’s what it’s all about. Preparation is everything. But yeah, there’s definitely other drivers on the grid using them for sure, and it’s just part of being an athlete.
Q. About the team, it seemed like some big gains were made last year in some places like the season opener with Conor and the pole he had. Does it feel like the team maybe is on the cusp of maybe not graduating to first tier up front all the time, but maybe just taking another step?
MAX CHILTON: Yeah, we’ve definitely improved the car. The short track car with Conor, we just seemed to hit the nail on the head and improved. We started to improve the road course, which I’m hoping obviously that’s more of a schedule that we’ve got on top of, and also Indy. Indy means a lot to us.
We’ve learnt over the last six months looking back we did a vital mistake and went the wrong direction, and that’s now explained everything why we struggled last year.
Hopefully again we can go into Indy knowing that we’ve learnt from our mistakes and we can qualify higher up. We know we’ve got a very smooth, slippery car and it’s efficient, so we should have done better at Indy. But we’ve now worked out what we did wrong, and hopefully we’ve learnt from it.
Q. The level of progress that Carlin — I know that when you and the team moved up to INDYCAR, there was some high hopes, expectations this was going to be a team for the future. How would you gauge the level of progress at this point? Are you on schedule, behind schedule, a lot of work to do? How would you gauge that?
MAX CHILTON: If I’m honest, I think we’re behind where we wanted to be going into our fourth year. But there’s a lot more hurdles, too, that you learn. It’s like anything, there’s always more to it than you originally planned.
We’re up against teams like Ganassi, Penske, Andretti have been doing it for 25 to 50 years, and they do have a huge difference in budgets, and that’s a huge part of the INDYCAR.
So I think with what we have and especially now being a single car, I think we do as good a job as anyone else at being a single-car entry. We’re very focused on the things that we can improve with what we’ve got, and I think especially this winter that’s something which hopefully we can prove to everyone in the opening races.
I wanted to be fighting for podiums, and we haven’t been, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be. That’s my outlook going into this year, and looking forward to it.
Q. When Trevor set up the shop in Florida, he thought it was a good recruiting tool to bring European mechanics and engineers over to the United States because Florida, nice place to live, all of that. Do you think that model has worked out, or do you still see where it might be advantageous to consider a move to Indianapolis?
MAX CHILTON: No, I fully back that decision. We’ve got the youngest pit crew, probably engineering team, on the grid. Our pit stops time prove that. There’s a lot of older generations still jumping over the wall, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that if we didn’t move the team to Florida. If we had it in Indianapolis we wouldn’t have gotten the people over that we wanted.
I fully back the decision. It’s a few extra miles for the truck drivers, but again, there’s quite a few races in the South where it benefits us.
I think that decision was completely worthy. Some people might think otherwise, but I back Trevor’s decision. And we got some great people over we probably wouldn’t have been otherwise.
Q. You mentioned about a single-car team. Have there been any talks of bringing a second car out this year?
MAX CHILTON: There’s a possibility of running another car at the Indy 500. We’ve definitely got another fantastic car built, ready to go, and we’re in talks with some other people. But at the moment it’s definitely a single-car entry for this year, and that’s the focus. But we’re ready if we have another person ready.
Q. For whoever it is to share the oval seat with you, is there somebody you have in mind, a driving style that you notice somebody likes that can help you out for the other races? I know it’s completely different tracks, but anything that can help?
MAX CHILTON: Yeah, so obviously this year there’s only three other races which I’m not doing. That’s two at Texas and then Gateway. We’ve got quite a lot of interest in that seat so we’re just trying to work out which route we go down.
I’m not part of that decision process. I purely focus on what I need to do, so that’s between Trevor and the management. And I check in regularly to see how that’s going, but I’m confident we’ll get a good talent in the car for those few races.
Q. As a quick follow-up about your travel. Obviously the more condensed schedule. Are you commuting from overseas to here? After St. Pete I know there’s Texas, the 500 stuff after that. Are you just going to stay in the States between that break?
MAX CHILTON: So the plan is to commute less, but I will still commute. Last year actually was unbelievably easy. The planes were absolutely desolate going across the Atlantic. There was never more than 40 people on any of the crossings I did last year. We didn’t need to take any negative tests in either direction.
This year is a lot more complicated, negative tests in either direction, and at the moment the UK has been in lockdown for over six months. Nothing is open, and we have to quarantine when we come back. I’m hoping that’s lifted.
At the moment the U.S. isn’t on the red list as we call it so I don’t have to land and go into a hotel for 10 days, I can just quarantine at home for five days and then take a negative test. Again, that takes up a bit of my time. So we want to do that as few of times as possible.
I think I can do the whole season in five trips. If they put America on the quarantine list where I have to stay in a hotel, then I’ll do a couple of long stretches. That’s the plan.
Again, as I said earlier, the world is quickly changing. Hopefully the amount the UK and America are getting the vaccines out, they’ll start to lift things soon after or soon before the Indy 500.
Q. Carlin obviously has a long history in the junior formulas. How important is it to see that team back in Indy Lights, and does that benefit the INDYCAR program down the road where you can bring people over and they get accustomed to racing in the U.S.?
MAX CHILTON: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. It’s something we did really well at, and we closed down a couple of years ago. But the grid is looking great for Indy Lights. We’ve got a really good couple of drivers on board, and I do think that that could feed into the INDYCAR program, which maybe will mean we’re not a single-car entry going forward. That would be nice. It would be nice to have a teammate.
I don’t think it will affect the INDYCAR schedule. Colin Hale manages the teams and is super, super experienced and I’m sure he knows how to manage two teams. He did it perfectly fine when we first started, so it’s definitely something we can do.
Q. Have you seen any benefits from being a one-car team last season, given with everything that was going on last year?
MAX CHILTON: I like your positive question. I never, ever get asked that. And yes, there are plenty of benefits by having a single-car team that some people aren’t aware of.
You can very much — the benefits of multiple-car teams or multiple cars is obviously you can file through some issues and go, Yep, that’s the direction, let’s go down there, and you’ve also got driver data overlays. So they’re the benefits.
The downside is every time you add a car to a team they become less efficient. People’s minds are split between two, three, four, five. When it starts just getting dangerous is where you can’t focus on what needs to be done.
So with a single-car team, the setup is purely focused on what I want. And at the end of the day the best setup, even if it’s the worst setup, is what I want. If I’m happy with it, that’s when the driver will be the quickest. Everything is focused around myself, which is a benefit. Everything is super efficient.
Yes, you have to have technically more people employed than you would need to for two because you can’t just split everything. That bit isn’t perfect. But whenever there’s a problem, it gets resolved I think really, really quick.
There’s also other ways between engine manufacturers that you can look at data. So I’ve got data. It’s not like I’m not looking at anyone else’s data, so that helps. I’ve been a single car before, and it kind of works for me.
I know there’s people on the grid that think it has its downsides, and for sure I know it has its downsides. But does it mean you can’t do well? I disagree. I think you can definitely get some good results being a single-car team, especially with a team like Carlin that have great engineering behind it and they know how to extract the most out of the driver.
Q. We’ve had an addition of a lot of new rookies, including Helio Castroneves coming back with a new team, new car, new everything. Technically he’s a rookie, too. How does that factor in to the way you might attack the track because even though Jimmie Johnson has been a great driver he doesn’t have the background and experience that you have and come through the feeder series and so on? Also, Romain Grosjean. You have good drivers who have built credibility and now they’re getting into the formula. How is this going to, say, address your approach to this track this season?
MAX CHILTON: Yeah, so it’s a great question. Personally it won’t change anything that I do. Sometimes I’m a little bit alarmed by sometimes a rookie comes in that I know has got a bit of a checkered background and they’re always involved in accidents or they’re a bit kamikaze when they go for a move that isn’t there, especially INDYCAR racing on ovals can be quite dangerous.
But the ones coming in this year are highly experienced. Helio, as you said, is not really a rookie. Romain is a fantastic driver. He wouldn’t have lasted 10 years in Formula One if he wouldn’t and he won the GP2 championship.
So yeah, it doesn’t change anything. Jimmie Johnson has got some of the best race craft that has ever existed. NASCAR is all about race craft. For me it doesn’t change anything. It’s actually quite exciting.
I think INDYCAR is doing a fantastic job at the moment getting some big names in the series. I think that’s so beneficial, and it’s the last — I call it the last pure single seater formula out there. Loud, fast, and whatever other word they use, it’s definitely loud and fast. They’re doing a great job of that.
I saw an article that Kobayashi is potentially looking at coming over, as well. I know me and Alex were the first, and then you’ve got Marcus that’s come over, and now Romain. I think there’s going to be more others. And especially European drivers, some of them are not big fans of the ovals like myself.
The more we reduce those oval races off the schedule, which we have done the last couple of years, naturally more people are coming over, which is what we’re seeing.
I think we’ve got some great times ahead of us in the INDYCAR Series.
Q. I know that a lot of Europeans are not fans of ovals. In fact, even Will Power wasn’t a fan of ovals, but once he broke through, he literally broke through, he became a champion and just a can’t-lose type of driver. Of course he qualifies crazy. Have you ever given thought of maybe developing an expertise in ovals even though it’s not, say, comfortable for you?
MAX CHILTON: I definitely gave it a good shot. I did it for — it’s the only race I’ve actually won in America was in Indy Lights on the oval. So I prepared in the best way possible doing Indy Lights. And then I gave it three or four years, a couple with Ganassi and a couple with Carlin, and we definitely — I nearly won the Indy 500, the biggest race in the world. I led it for 50 laps, more than anyone else, and lost it with six laps to go.
I definitely think I’ve got the expertise skills to succeed on it. It’s just for me it was a life choice. Did I really deep down enjoy it? No. I know for a fact, I wish I could name all the other drivers that agree with me, but I’m not going to throw them under the bus.
Q. We already know who they are.
MAX CHILTON: Yeah, they’re in a position where they can’t do it. I was in a position where yes, I could do it, but then I was still putting myself out on the line. But I back myself for doing that, and I think I was being honest to myself and true.
I would have hate for something to happen and me not done something about it. I’ve done something about it. That’s the way it is. I now really look forward to getting into a race car on the road and street courses, and yeah, I’m enjoying life more now.
Obviously the 500 is a different beast. It’s a race in itself. The thing that makes me willing to still do the Indy 500, everyone treats it with respect. Everyone gets a whole week or two practice, and everyone builds up to it in the way that you should.
The ones that I didn’t enjoy is when you got an hour’s practice and then you had to go flat at night on qualifying and then race a couple hours later. It was just too kamikaze for me.
THE MODERATOR: Max, we appreciate your time. Thanks a lot for dialing in today, and we also wish you the best of luck this year, and we’ll see you in Barber.
THE MODERATOR: We have Rinus VeeKay, 2020 INDYCAR Rookie of the Year. That still sounds nice, doesn’t it?
RINUS VEEKAY: It does, yeah. It’s quite dubious to be called that way.
THE MODERATOR: He is the driver of the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, running a full season, no longer a rookie.
Rinus, compare where you’re at now as to where you were at a year ago at this time sitting in an interview room not knowing what you were getting into. Now you have a full season under your belt, a successful one as Rookie of the Year. How has your mentality, your approach changed this year compared to last year?
RINUS VEEKAY: Definitely changed a lot. I’m a whole different driver now. Of course I only had Road to Indy experience before my rookie season started, but now I have I think it’s 14 INDYCAR races under my belt.
Yeah, it’s something I’m very happy with and I can really — I could already see last season that throughout the season I made so much progress. Yeah, I think we had a very steep learning curve last year, and my job is to make sure that steep learning curve keeps staying as steep as it is now throughout the season.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Rinus, I’m curious, I got a chance to really evaluate your season last year, and if you noticed anything about your race craft maybe that you could have changed between a rookie and your second year?
RINUS VEEKAY: Well, I found out that finishing a race is quite important, so I will always race as hard as I can, as fair as I can. But definitely don’t take any risk, any unnecessary risk.
Beginning of the season I was just really aggressive. Came away with it a few times, but also in Texas it was just too much. I definitely learned a lot from those races, and yeah, it made me a complete driver.
I think now, yeah, I’ll have to make sure I keep it all going, and yeah, finish as well as possible every race.
Q. How do you balance that as a driver? I know INDYCAR is so tight, to balance the aggression, because if you slip a little bit it could be a difference between a podium and outside the top 10. You also don’t want to push too hard and find trouble. How do you balance that?
RINUS VEEKAY: Yeah, it’s definitely tough. You can’t always do it 100 percent well. But yeah, it’s mostly intuition, like your body does everything for you. Mostly if I do any moves in a race and I look back afterwards, I have no idea how I did it, but it happened. I think that’s a good thing, don’t think, and let everything happen how it goes.
Seems like it all went well last year.
Q. I’ve got a question about the current rookie battle that we’re going to get this year because you’re the reigning Rookie of the Year, but this year’s battle couldn’t be more different than last year’s. Last year it was all youngsters like yourself. Now we’ve got all these veterans coming in as new INDYCAR drivers. How do you look at that? What are your thoughts about that coming battle?
RINUS VEEKAY: Well, I think first of all, it’s great for INDYCAR publicity-wise. But yeah, it really shows even more rookies it’s going to be a great fight. We’ve got Jimmie Johnson, who has accomplished a lot in NASCAR. Then we’ve got Scott McLaughlin, who of course did all that in Australia.
Yeah, it’s going to be big. Also with Romain Grosjean, he’s going to bring over a lot of viewers from F1. I think it’s going to be very good for the publicity of INDYCAR, but also just the whole rookie fight is going to be something people are going to watch and going to pay more attention to.
Q. Rinus, last year obviously as a rookie it seemed like you were kind of finding your way and you were trying to keep up with the team. Year two, does that equation flip a little bit, now you’ve got all the experience and the team is trying to take that next step? Is it kind of about them trying to match where you are and try to get you forward in your second year?
RINUS VEEKAY: Well, we’re also working together all the time to make each other better. Of course, I’m not a robot, so I can do a lot of stuff better. We’re all working together. It’s a really nice team in terms of cooperation, so it’s very free. I can say whatever I want, and everyone wants to get better at everything.
I can already see that the team has made progression in the off-season, and I’m getting more professional. I now expect more what the team wants from me, so I can anticipate more of that coming into the race weekends and make sure I prepare better for the coming races.
Q. What are some of those things that the team wants from you this year, do you think?
RINUS VEEKAY: Well, I think of course full commitment. It’s not just something that you’re driving INDYCAR. You just really have to give it everything, in your personal life, but in any way possible.
Coming into the race weekends, it’s not just another race weekend. We’ve got to make sure I’m fully prepared. I know everything that the engineers know from past years, even though I’ve maybe done no races on that track. But there’s data from before.
So yeah, it’s just all that working ahead towards the races that, yeah, I can improve this year more on.
Q. You mentioned that level of aggression when you started out last year. You sort of had to learn how to moderate that. It also seemed as if you had some really good respectful battles with some other drivers, especially toward the end of the year like you and Herta at Gateway. Did the other guys have to learn you as much as you were learning them about how to race around each other?
RINUS VEEKAY: Yeah, I think so. Of course I had a lot of fun racing hard against some guys, but they didn’t have as much fun as I did (smiling).
Well, it happens. But you get a certain respect with other drivers. You start to know them. Once you start a season, you know nobody. It’s an unknown person you’re racing against.
Now that I’ve met all the drivers, it’s getting more like I’m another driver. They know I’m going to race hard. I’m not going to make it easy for them. It’s a thing now. It’s not something they have to be surprised of.
I think that’s a good sign, and I think it’s worth the effort. So yeah, let’s hope to keep that on this season.
Q. You talked a little bit about kind of what you expect out of this next year from a big-picture perspective. More specifically, what are your own personal expectations for your second year as far as on-track results? What do you think is realistic and what would you say you’re shooting for that would make year two in INDYCAR a success for you?
RINUS VEEKAY: Well, first of all, I want to do better than I did last year in any way. I think we can be a frontrunner regularly, like we can be one of the favorites every race. I’m thinking about top 5.
Once you’re in that position, I think there will — in those 17 races, there will be an opportunity where you can go for that race win where everything goes your way. We just have to make sure we have the pace. I know we’ve got the strategies, and just me being the driver I am that got a podium in Indy, and yeah, well, the driver I was last year.
I think if I just keep doing what I’m doing and have the team keep putting in the work that they did in the off-season, I think we can really run at the front, and yeah, hopefully go for podiums.
Hopefully that first win, that’s something I really want to go for. We’ll see how that goes. But yeah, I’m fully committed for the season.
Q. Do you feel like in any way the way Colton was able to grab a win so early in his career, I know Pato hasn’t won yet but he’s been really, really close, do either of their performances highlight how consistent they’ve been able to be early in their careers? Does that in any way give you any confidence in feeling like that’s possible for you?
RINUS VEEKAY: Oh, definitely, yeah. I think it’s definitely possible. I know the team is capable of it. You’ve got to be lucky to win.
Yeah, I’m going to go give it 100 percent, and I’m confident that we can do it, but just the opportunity has to arise. We’ll give it our all and see when it comes to us.
Q. I know you work with Arie Sr. What exactly is his role with you?
RINUS VEEKAY: He was kind of like my personal advisor. He has had a lot of experience in INDYCAR, his whole life as an INDYCAR driver, where he can give me so much advice like business-wise but also as a driver. Just with all the experience, he’s made a few mistakes, which he talks to me to make sure I don’t make those mistakes. It’s just great to have him around, and it’s a privilege to work with him.
Q. What kind of mistakes did Arie tell you he made that he shouldn’t make?
RINUS VEEKAY: Well, being a little too aggressive on an oval. It’s basically always that because he’s the king at that. And yeah, just little things that — little tricks that save you a lot of time on ovals, like with setting up the car and feeling what’s the car going to do, because you don’t have a lot of time when you’re coming to the race. And obviously setup is so important. If you can really maximize that time, yeah, it’s super valuable.
Q. What have you learned from your first season in INDYCAR that you can bring forward to this year, either both good and bad?
RINUS VEEKAY: Well, I’ve learned that INDYCAR is one of the most competitive series in the world and you have to give it over 100 percent to be competitive and to get results. So yeah, that’s definitely something I’ve learned.
I expected it to be super tough, but this is next level. Yeah, as a driver, just experience. I’ve just learned about everything last year, every procedure, strategies, pit stops. I’m still learning a lot.
I’m feeling like a veteran now, so coming into the next season I will have a lot more time to think instead of time finding out what’s happening around me.
THE MODERATOR: Rinus, we’ll get you get to the next station. Thanks again for your time and we wish you the best of luck this year.
RINUS VEEKAY: Perfect. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.
THE MODERATOR: We’ve Dalton Kellett. He is the driver of the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, driving the full season. It’s his second season in the series.
I opened with the same question to Rinus, but you did a story this week for INDYCAR.com with Zach Horrall where you talked about your first Content Day and how your eyes were open. Let’s stretch that out to the whole season. How much more prepared and just settled do you feel right now than you did 12 months ago?
DALTON KELLETT: Quite a bit more. I think even just looking at 12 months ago, our deal was just kind of coming together and we were just going out for the first test. I think this year we’ve got already three test days under our belt, and we have a few more before the first race.
Everyone is really excited with how the off-season is going, and I’m feeling a lot more up to speed, a lot more kind of settled with the car, the team and everything. It’s a good position to be in.
THE MODERATOR: As a rookie, though, last year, were there just deer-in-the-headlights moments that you’re not going to have this year because you’ve kind of been there, done that?
DALTON KELLETT: Well, the first race last year was definitely — that’s a good way to put it, deer-in-the-headlights moment where I think it was 30-minute or 40-minute practice, right into qualifying, and then bam, first time on Firestone reds having never experienced that. And testing was like everything, was new and it was happening so fast and there was no testing and it was hectic. Schedules were condensed for COVID reasons.
Sounds like it’ll be a little more normal this year, so it should be a little bit more manageable.
Q. There seems to be a lot of hope and optimism at AJ Foyt Racing amongst the whole team, Sebastien Bourdais running full season, you running full season, some additions on the staff, engineering and all that. What do you see the reason for that, and how much improvement should we expect to see this year?
DALTON KELLETT: You know, I think the reason behind that optimism and sort of the — our thoughts going into the season, we feel we’ve had some pretty strong tests, but obviously we’re coming from a tough position last year and we’re looking to make incremental gains.
I wouldn’t expect us to go out and be totally flipping the narrative. It’s going to be a progressive improvement. And I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position to be able to do that this year.
Q. Last year you had such a disjointed schedule, the way that the schedule was set up sharing that car with other drivers. How much do you think it really kept you from developing a rhythm?
DALTON KELLETT: You know, I think jumping into that other car with, like I said, sharing it with Tony and Seb, that made it difficult. But the big thing, it wasn’t so much that we were sharing the same car, it was just not doing all of the races. I think having that continuity makes it easier.
I think the drivers hopping in and out of the car is more of a pain for the mechanics, having to get everything set up because we have different height and weight and all that and pedals and whatnot. So it adds a lot more work that could have been spent on other stuff. It will help the mechanics a lot to have that kind of consistency throughout the year.
For me, just knowing that we’re always working on our program and making those iterative improvements, it’ll be a little easier this year.
Q. Are you the Indy crew or are you the Texas crew?
DALTON KELLETT: I’m Indy based with the 4 car, yeah.
Q. Just from your last rookie season, your biggest takeaway from that season, and I know the season is just starting now, but how is that helping you to think about this year in terms of improving the car and everything like that?
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, I think the biggest takeaway from the rookie year is just gaining experience with the car, with the Firestones, with both the blacks and the reds, and then the oval compounds, knowing sort of what you want out of the car and then looking to this year.
Having Seb onboard and the experience of being with him at test days has been real eye opening to see how confident he is in terms of this is what I want out of the car and this is — I want to drive it this way and it kind of needs to be doing this.
Seeing kind of his experience, allowing him to do that has been very helpful. That’s been a good learning opportunity.
Q. How beneficial is it to you to have Seb alongside you full-time this season?
DALTON KELLETT: It’s really beneficial. You know, I’m very thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had with Foyt to be paired with not just Seb but other very experienced teammates in TK and Charlie last year. There’s a lot of experience at that team.
Having Seb this year is going to be a great learning opportunity for me. I think his experience and his talent is unquestioned. And as a young driver, it’s very beneficial to have someone that’s kind of a known quantity that you can benchmark yourself against.
Q. In terms of Nashville, how excited are you to be heading there this year?
DALTON KELLETT: I’m excited to go to Nashville. That circuit looks really cool, and going across the river on the bridge, I think that Music City Grand Prix is going to be really awesome.
Q. You’re a graduate of the Road to Indy. What part of that series prepared you best to come to INDYCAR?
DALTON KELLETT: You know, I think when you look at the Road to Indy specifically, I think their development program is very well thought out in terms of the progression of each step of the cars, from USF 2000 to Indy Lights. The cars get progressively faster, more complicated, races get longer. You really get experience on the tracks that you’re going to be racing at in INDYCAR. I think that is in itself very valuable.
You can obviously learn these tracks on simulators, but to actually get race experience in real life there is really beneficial.
Also it gives you a chance to be in the INDYCAR paddock and exposes you to teams, helps you network, get to know people, which is a big part of the sport, as well.
Q. You’re from Canada where the hockey mullet is a thing. Did you see Conor Daly’s mullet yesterday on social media?
DALTON KELLETT: I did, and I’m a lot shorter than he is. I believe in hockey they call it “flow,” you have like lettuce coming out of the back of your helmet.
Q. Does that get the seal of approval? Is it good flow?
DALTON KELLETT: He had really good flow. He would fit right in. It’s not my style, but kudos to him. I thought that was awesome, yeah.
Q. I just had the idea that maybe last year was a kind of transition year for the team, and you were a part of that. Can you explain to us if there are some things that the team is changing and we can understand what’s happening on the team?
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, specifically we’ve made some changes on the engineering side. We’ve brought in a new lead engineer for the 14 car, Justin, and a couple junior engineers have come on.
Specifically the engineer, the depth of the engineering talent has definitely increased with Mike Oliver kind of moving to a technical director, overseeing both cars. So I think the shop and engineering side of it has gotten stronger.
Also with not having the COVID restrictions and being able to test, we’ve had a chance to actually go to the racetrack, to the simulator, shaker rig and all that and actually do a lot more testing than we had the opportunity to last year.
So I think those changes in terms of like specific items are going to be very beneficial, stuff like your damper programs and all that. Now we have a lot more ability to make good decisions there and make the car faster.
Q. I was looking at the testing times, and we know it’s just testing, but you were within seven-tenths from the top time, which to me indicated you really made a jump forward compared to where you were last year. What was it you and the team focused on this winter?
DALTON KELLETT: You know, on the specific test when we went to Sebring, I had two days there, so the first day obviously you’re kind of getting back up to speed, at least for the first couple sessions in the morning.
For that test and then for the Barber test, we definitely had a long list of engineering items and test items that we had to get through. It was just a lot of testing and development, trying different damper options, trying different spring and damper, kind of chassis, sort of overall like methodologies to kind of hone in on something specific.
From a personal side, I think just really now that I had the half a year sort of from last year under my belt with this car and with these tires, knowing a bit more about what to do to actually get the speed out of them, specifically with that, one of the things that compared to Seb was working on was kind of optimizing the braking, and not just so much the initial brake point but it was kind of the trail-off and actually carrying speed through the middle of the corner. I think that was a big jump in terms of lap time, and that’s an area where I’ll be continuing to focus.
Q. You mentioned Seb, but you also have Charlie Kimball in the paddock, and he’s also a person with a lot of experience. Where do you see he might be able to be a resource for data and other information in terms of setup, and also just working on the track?
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, so having both Charlie and Seb on board is a great tool for me as a young driver to kind of learn from them both. Even just looking at how it went last year in May, Charlie has got a lot of experience at the 500. And I really appreciated that before the race he actually — we took some time and kind of sat down and he sort of talked me through the month and explained how it was all going to go. I think having his experience, as well, will be very beneficial for the race that he’s onboard.
Q. Do you see any crossovers given the matrix on how you judge a car and the way he seems to be running his car? Any data points there that might be helpful?
DALTON KELLETT: You’re referring to Charlie or Seb or both?
Q. Charlie, or both.
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, when we’ve looked at data and kind of compared the two cars, Seb and I seem to be maybe a little closer on driving style. I think in my experience, it seems like we both kind of prefer a more stable car. I think that’s somewhere where maybe Seb and I are a bit more on the same page.
On the oval at the 500, what was working on the 41 car was also working on the 4 car, so I think we — and vice versa. Charlie’s oval experience is definitely going to be really helpful for that month, the month of May.
THE MODERATOR: Dalton, with that, I think there are no more questions, and we very much appreciate your time.
DALTON KELLETT: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We wish you the best of luck this year, too.
DALTON KELLETT: We’re looking forward to a good year.