Dalton Kellett of AJ Foyt Racing has the most career starts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course of any driver in the field for the GMR Grand Prix on Saturday, July 4. But it will be his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES start.
How can that be?
From 2016-19, Kellett was a full-time Indy Lights competitor. The Indy Lights series competed in doubleheaders on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. That gives Kellett eight career starts on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile in Indy Lights competition.
The GMR Grand Prix has been held six times, so the regular NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers will be taking the track for the seventh running of that race at noon (ET) July 4. The race will be televised by NBC, followed by the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard NASCAR Xfinity Series race at 3 p.m. ET, also on NBC.
When told that he has more starts on the IMS road course than three-time GMR Grand Prix winners Simon Pagenaud or Will Power at Team Penske, five-time series champion Scott Dixon or any other driver in the field, it came as a surprise to the Canadian.
“That’s a stat I hadn’t thought about given the Road to Indy runs doubleheaders,” Kellett said. “Now I feel better about it.”
Kellett takes over the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet that opened the season with popular former champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan behind the wheel at Texas Motor Speedway. The No. 14 entry will be driven by Kanaan on the ovals. Kellett has a street and road course schedule in that car.
Although the cars used in INDYCAR and Indy Lights are dramatically different in terms of speed, eight races on the IMS road course gives Kellett some familiarity with the circuit as he prepares for his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut. He has a pair of seventh-place finishes in 2018 and 2019 and finished sixth in the second race in 2018.
“Having the experience in racing situations is very helpful,” Kellett said. “We had smaller fields in Indy Lights, so the bigger field will be something to adjust to. Knowing how the track races and what is important to focus on is really important. That experience with eight starts will definitely come into play.
“The overall approach is still similar. You are making adjustments on the fly, especially going into this weekend running with NASCAR. There will be adjustments with the different rubber compounds. Dealing with that will be new. The overall technique will be similar. We’ll be working with the engineers trying to get the most out of the car. I think it will be important to hit the ground running and figure things out, for sure.”
Kellett watched the first race of the season June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway and saw Kimball and Kanaan both running near the front throughout the race. He called the results at Texas very promising and believes team president Larry Foyt has revamped the operation, especially in the engineering department.
Mike Colliver is the team’s technical director, with Scott Harner calling Kellett’s race strategy and Daniele Cucchiaroni serving as Kellett’s race engineer. Mike Pawlowski is the race engineer for Kimball.
“They have put together a top-notch team,” Kellett said.
Kellett also has a deep engineering background with a degree in engineering physics from Queens University in his hometown of Toronto.
“I think the engineering background is very useful in the communication aspect with the engineer,” Kellett said. “It helps to have that background.
“That being said, I wouldn’t knock any experienced driver who has been doing this for a long time who doesn’t have that background, because being involved as a driver is almost like a journeyman experience in race engineering. A lot of the guys that have that experience are able to communicate at a high level, as well. As a rookie, it will help the learning process go faster.”
After months and months of waiting, Kellett’s debut is rapidly approaching. It will also be the start of a very hectic part of the schedule where he will compete in three races in eight days. That includes a doubleheader on July 11-12 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
“Given that we’ve been sitting around for a while, it’s good to hit the ground running and front-load the season with a doubleheader,” he said. “Physically, it’s challenging for everyone. We’ve been training very hard getting physically prepared for the race. As a rookie, I think it will be nice to have those two races back-to-back because whatever you learn in the first race, you sleep on it and take it into the next day.”
Before Road America, comes the IMS road course. And Kellett can’t wait to make his debut on a circuit he knows so well.
“We’re ready to go racing,” he said. “I’ve been sitting for a while, so it will be fun to get back.”