Continuity is Key
Late last week, the not so surprising announcement that Tony Kanaan would be driving the #14 Car for A.J. Foyt Enterprises was made. It had been rumbled about since June, maybe July. What everyone was left wondering was: would either Conor Daly or Carlos Munoz be the driver of the #4 Car? A.J. Foyt Enterprises indicated there was a short list and both drivers were on that list. Should they pick a new driver — it will yet again be another complete driver change for the team.
The Daly/Munoz pairing just started in 2017. Prior to that it was Takuma Sato/Jack Hawksworth for 2015 and 2016. Sato holds the record of the driving being with A.J. Foyt Enterprises the longest (I only went back ten years) with four years from 2013 through the 2015 season. Looking back, again ten years, the highest they had a driver finish was 12th in overall point standings. I think too many driver changes is to blame.
Continuity is important, in racing and in life. In my day job I’m a government lawyer who practices in administrative law. I’ve been in this role for two and a half years now. Most of other attorneys in my section have also been in this job for the same amount of time, if not longer. There is a level of comfort in being with the same team for over a year, you begin to anticipate the needs of others. I know a certain attorney has focused on one area, and if I have questions in that area I can ask them. I myself have practiced before two specific boards my entire career, and the other attorneys know I can answer their questions. If I were to be picked up and dropped in a completely knew team, even though I’ve had years of experience, the learning curve would be steep. I think the same holds true with any job.
Now I’m not a driver, but I can imagine that certain drivers excel at certain types of courses. Mechanics get to know the car and how the driver likes it. Engineers and strategists find out the strengths of their drivers. Upsetting a “balance” or “learned environment” puts the team in chaos. It certainly sets them back as everyone has to figure out how the new drivers likes everything, what their strengths are, and how to fix the weaknesses. And the poor driver who is shunted from team to team doesn’t have that opportunity to become comfortable and really get into the groove of their team before they pushed to the next one.
I know someone out there is saying “but Josef Newgarden won the Championship in his first year at Penske”. Yes he did. First of all, it’s Team Penske and they are the dominant team and things like that will happen if a new driver goes onto a dominant team. What’s interesting is there have been quotes floating around that Team Penske learned from back when Simon Pagenaud joined the team how create a smooth transition for a new driver, like Josef Newgarden when he joined. And Team Penske can do that, your power house teams are going to have a strong support team in place and the time and money to work with the driver in the off season. The smaller teams, well they operate a shoe-string budget in the off season and don’t have that time nor money to work with a new teammate on getting everything ready in the off season.
I’m saying this to A.J. Foyt, a man whom my father admires so much, a driver who I truly believe is the G.O.A.T. and is simply amazing. Please pick either Carlos Munoz or Conor Daly (and my loyalty lies with Daly I think he’s a hell of a driver needs that time to sit in one team and really develop). Your team needs continuity. Tony Kanaan was, apparently, signed to a multi year deal, bring one of those other drivers back for a few years. I think you’ll be surprised how quickly the two drivers work with each other, with each other’s teams, and you’re going to start making a showing. Besides, Tony Kanaan, despite his showing this year, is a hell of a driver and either one of those two would learn so much (again — I say Daly!).