AJ Foyt Racing is doing it different in 2017.
The longtime Verizon IndyCar Series team has undergone a driver lineup makeover in terms of a youth movement by signing Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly – both 24 years old.
Munoz, a one-time race winner and two-time Indianapolis 500 runner-up in three full seasons and one part-time campaign at Andretti Autosport, will pilot the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. entry in 2017 made famous by team owner and racing icon A.J. Foyt.
Daly, who scored a podium and led 56 laps en route to finishing runner-up for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season with Dale Coyne Racing, returns to the team where he made his series debut in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 and will pilot the No. 4 ABC Supply car. But unlike his new Colombian teammate whose car and crew will be based at the Foyt shop near Houston, Daly’s will be at the team’s new shop in Speedway, Ind. – in the shadows of historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Indiana native relished having the team close to home and being associated with a number that is near and dear to his heart.
“It's really cool when (team president) Larry (Foyt) told me that we were going to be based in Indianapolis,” Daly said on a media teleconference Tuesday. “Obviously that helps me quite a lot because that's my hometown. (I’m) pretty excited about that.”
Daly was just as excited to learn he’ll be driving the No. 4. His stepfather, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, was one of the founding partners of the former Panther Racing that fielded the No. 4 entry for years, including back-to-back championship seasons with Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001-02.
“I actually didn't know we'd be the No. 4 until probably like just a few days ago,” Daly said. “That was even cooler just because of the history that we have there with my stepdad Doug, when he was running with Panther Racing, involved there.
“I grew up watching those guys: Scott Goodyear, Sam Hornish, Tomas Scheckter as well, then Dan Wheldon,” Daly said. “It was just a cool number that meant a lot to my family. It was cool to carry on.”
Daly, whose father Derek drove in Indy cars and Formula One, doesn’t believe splitting the Foyt entries into two shops will be a detriment to the team.
“I think it just gives us two good hubs,” he said. “There's obviously good space in the shop that we have at Speedway and technology these days is pretty awesome. So I think there's going to be live video conferencing you can set up with all the engineers from both bases.
“It's not something that worries me at all because I think these days, to actually have two bases like that, I think Larry's approaching it in the right way and doing it properly. It's still one team, without a doubt. They're just separated by a few miles.”
For Munoz, the opportunity to carry the same number as legendary team owner A.J. Foyt used to win half of his four Indianapolis 500s is humbling. He also liked the way his new boss said there is no pecking order of drivers.
“I think A.J., when I went to Houston to join the team and everything, said, ‘There's not a (No.) 1 driver or second driver mentality driver here, all the drivers are the same.’
“I feel honored to be driving the 14 number because I know for him is really important, that number,” said Munoz, who finished 10th in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings this season for Andretti Autosport. “He loves that number. I think as a team, they want both drivers to be in the front. I've never been a driver that's attached to a number; I want to be the best no matter what number. I think it gives me even more motivation.”
Munoz has made 53 Verizon IndyCar Series starts, with his lone win coming in the first Chevrolet Dual in Detroit race in 2015. He added his first pole position this season at Texas Motor Speedway. A six-time Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race winner over two seasons, he brings a wealth of experience from Andretti and plans to integrate some of what he learned.
“I think I can bring a lot of information,” Munoz said. “With Andretti the last two years, they had trouble a little bit to get the setup right. The (Andretti) setup at the Indy 500 is one of the best cars up there. I know what the car feels like, I know what direction to take. When I go to the track, I know how I want the car to be, how the setup I want it to be.
“I think I can bring a lot from Andretti. Like I said, been five years with the team. I know also how they work. It's different how they work. (I can) try to introduce that.”
While Munoz and Daly drove Honda entries in 2016, it’s not certain what engine/aero kit combination they’ll have at their disposal in the coming season. Speculation has centered on the team moving to Chevrolet for 2017; Munoz said a team announcement is forthcoming.
Regardless, Daly believes he and Munoz will go all out in an effort to improve and advance.
“It's not easy to get a seat in INDYCAR,” said Daly, who has made 22 career starts. “It's not guaranteed for a long time, so we know we have to do our best every time out there. We're both going to learn from each other. We can only get better together. I think that's really encouraging for us as we move forward.”
Munoz believes he and Daly are ready to lead a team and be up front where it counts, at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“I think Larry and George (Klotz, team director) will be really capable of bringing talented people with us, to help us, because we are young drivers,” Munoz said. “But I think having the experience, now it's my turn, Conor and I, to be leading the team, try to have a good car, try to have the best car possible in the Indy 500.
“I think it's the most important race of all of them.”