Team Brazil is set for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, thanks to a Texan.
AJ Foyt Racing announced today that 19-year-old Matheus Leist – from Novo Hamburgo, Brazil – will team with veteran Brazilian Tony Kanaan in the upcoming season. Leist, who won three races and finished fourth in the 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires standings as a rookie, will drive the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet for the team owned by the Indy car icon.
Foyt, whose 67 wins as a driver remain the most in Indy car history, already has a nickname for his newest hire.
“I wanted a fresh start for 2018,” Foyt said. “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 (in the Freedom 100). 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.”
Leist will be 19 years, 6 months old when the 2018 season begins in March. It will make him the youngest full-time driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series since both Mario Moraes and Graham Rahal were 19 years, 3 months at the start of the 2008 season.
That doesn’t mean Leist comes without a strong racing pedigree. A standout karter in his native Brazil growing up, Leist finished third in the 2014 Brazilian F3 Light championship before moving to Europe to compete. He finished fifth in British F4 in 2015 with two wins and seven podium finishes, then won the 2016 British Formula 3 championship for Carlin on the strength of four victories and seven podiums.
Carlin moved Leist to its Indy Lights program this year, where he immediately conquered the first oval race of his life on the biggest stage of all – Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Freedom 100. He added triumphs at Road America and Iowa Speedway later in the 2017 season.
“This is a special moment in my career and I’m so grateful for the things that are happening,” said Leist, who lives in Aventura, Florida, near Miami. “Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that I’ll be driving for the legend A.J. Foyt.”
With Kanaan, who will drive the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevy, the pairing makes the Foyt duo the youngest and oldest drivers currently slated to drive full time in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Leist is looking forward to teaming with the Brazilian legend who has 17 Indy car wins, including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, and the 2004 series title on his resume.
“Having Tony Kanaan as my teammate is incredible because he’s been an idol for me since I was a child,” Leist said. “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.”
Kanaan, who turns 43 on Dec. 31 and just completed his 20th season racing Indy cars, joined AJ Foyt Racing in a multiyear deal announced in October. The native of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, is eager to begin working with his gifted young countryman as the team undertakes an ambitious program to move forward.
“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.”
Leist's car and crew will be based out of Foyt's main shop in Waller, Texas. Kanaan's car and crew will work out of its second shop in Speedway, Indiana. Team president Larry Foyt said Leist is the latest piece in the puzzle to restore AJ Foyt Racing to prominence – following the hiring of Kanaan and veteran engineer Eric Cowdin as technical director.
“We had to make some tough decisions, but we made them with a focus on strengthening the overall program,” Larry Foyt said. “We are positioning ourselves to be contenders next season. The added testing and development we are undergoing, combined with the new (universal) 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.”
This won't be the first time Kanaan has teamed with another Brazilian in Indy cars. He raced with long-time friend Rubens Barrichello at KV Racing Technology in 2012. Other recent Brazilian pairings include Bruno Junqueira and Moraes at Dale Coyne Racing in 2008, as well as Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves with Team Penske from 2000-03.
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