The offseason refresh of AJ Foyt Racing has reached completion with the team announcing that Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race winner Matheus Leist will drive the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet during the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Leist, 19, will join 20-year Indy car veteran Tony Kanaan in a reformulated driver lineup for the Waller, Texas-based team. Kanaan replaced Carlos Munoz in the No. 14 machine while Leist will take over the car previously driven by Conor Daly.
The decision by team owner A.J. Foyt will create a pairing that combines 42-year-old Kanaan, the most experienced full-time driver in the field, with the youngest driver.
Leist, already given the nickname “Matt” by Foyt, will step up to top-level North American open-wheel racing after just one year competing in Indy Lights with Carlin.
“I wanted a fresh start for 2018,” said Foyt. “I think the combination of an experienced driver like Tony and a hungry young driver like Matt will work.
“I watched him in the Indy Lights this year and he won at Indy. I know he’s got a lot to learn but I think he’s going to learn very quick and I think he’ll be very good in the Indy cars.”
Kanaan, with 17 career victories on his Indy car resume, weighed in on his new boss’ selection.
“I’m happy to welcome Matheus as a teammate to Foyt and the ABC Racing family,” Kanaan said. “Matheus is an extremely talented driver with a bright future ahead of him. I’m looking forward to working together and help get AJ Foyt Racing to the next level.”
The team earned just three top-five finishes in the last two seasons with two different driver lineups.
Leist’s Path to IndyCar
Leist’s North American debut with Carlin this past season started off slow with finishes of 15th and 11th at the season-opening doubleheader on the streets of St. Petersburg.
The Brazilian driver quickly improved, scoring three top fives over the next two race weekends at Barber Motorsports Park and the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The driver’s first taste of victory came at Indianapolis where he started from pole in the Freedom 100, his first oval race.
The superspeedway victory was followed up by a win in the first of two races at the 4.048-mile Road America road course.
Leist’s third victory was at Iowa Speedway, a 0.875-mile short oval, giving the driver success at three of the series’ disciplines.
Despite not winning on a temporary street circuit in his only Indy Lights season, Leist had a best finish of fifth on the streets of Toronto.
The three victories combined with two poles to give Leist 279 points at the end of the Indy Lights season, placing him fourth in the final standings behind championship winner Kyle Kaiser.
Prior to competing in the United States, Leist earned four victories in the 24-race 2016 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship to secure the title in his first year of competition.
Preparation Key for Leist
Leist’s rookie IndyCar campaign in will likely benefit from the experience brought by teammate Kanaan who has had multi-year tenures at Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing.
“This is a special moment in my career and I’m so grateful for the things that are happening,” said Leist. “Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that I’ll be driving for the legend A.J. Foyt.
“Having Tony Kanaan as my teammate is incredible because he’s been an idol for me since I was a child. Tony and I are from different generations but I can’t wait to be with him at the track and learn as much as I can from him. It will be a pleasure.”
Getting the teenager up to speed will be just one part of Larry Foyt’s plan to strengthen the team’s standing.
“We are positioning ourselves to be contenders next season,” said the team president. “The added testing and development we are undergoing, combined with the new aero kit for all of the competition should help our overall competitiveness and consistency.
“We think Matheus is going to be a really good fit with Tony Kanaan because Matheus has a lot of talent and he is going to learn a lot from Tony.”
Preparation will start in earnest for the team when Kannan tests the new 2018 aero kit at Sebring International Raceway in December. Leist will follow with his own test at the classic Florida circuit in January. Both drivers will then test together at Sebring at the end of January.
The new-look AJ Foyt Racing team will make its competition debut on the streets of St. Petersburg when the 2018 IndyCar season kicks off on March 11.