After weeks of speculation, A.J. Foyt Racing confirmed Thursday that 20-year-old Matheus Leist will pilot the #4 ABC Supply machine in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Paired with the series’ most experienced full-time driver in Tony Kanaan, the two make up “Team Brazil” and will certainly be a duo to watch for next season.
Finishing 4th in the 2017 Indy Lights championship, Leist had wins at the Freedom 100 (Indianapolis), Road America and Iowa. The 19-year-old caught fire during the middle of the season, stringing together eight consecutive top-10 finishes and reaching as high as 2nd in the championship by the conclusion of the Toronto event.
By his own admission, A.J. Foyt was looking for something interesting and exciting with this year’s driver line-up. “I wanted a fresh start for 2018. I think the combination of an experience driver like Tony and a hungry young driver like Matt will work,” said the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner. “I watched him in the Indy Lights this year and he won at Indy (Carb Day’s Freedom 100). I know he’s got a lot to learn but I think he’s going to learn very quick and he’ll be very good in the Indy cars.”
While veteran Tony Kanaan will likewise be doing his best to acclimate to a new team, the 21-year veteran has to be excited at the prospects of mentoring a fellow countryman. “I’m happy to welcome Matheus as a teammate to Foyt and the ABC Racing family,” said TK. “Matheus is an extremely talented driver with a bright future ahead of him. I’m looking forward to working together and help get A.J. Foyt Racing to the next level.”
To have the opportunity to drive for Foyt is an experience that Kanaan himself has dreamt of for years, growing up as a fan first and later an acquaintance in the IndyCar paddock. Similarly, though, it is Leist who is relishing the opportunity to drive for A.J. and to team up with the respected Kanaan. “This is a special moment in my career and I’m so grateful for the things that are happening,” said Leist.
“I’ve been racing for eleven years so far, and since I started in 2006 my brother and I always dreamed about getting into a top category,” recalled the 3-time Indy Lights winner. “Every day I keep telling myself that I could not have made a better decision than to come to the USA at the end of 2016. America is where things happen and where the good drivers have a proper place. The IndyCar Series is one of the best categories in the world and has the most important race in the world.”
While Kanaan will get to hit the track in a Foyt Chevrolet next month at Sebring, Leist will have to wait until the January Sebring test before he gets to pilot his ABC Supply machine. Following that, all teams will have the opportunity to test at Phoenix in February.
As our Justin Reschke highlighted in last week’s Foyt open position article, Leist was always the front runner for this seat. The win at Indianapolis on Carb Day’s Freedom 100 certainly strengthened his candidacy and he will be an exciting rookie to watch, the youngest driver in the field thus far. Despite the young age, though, history is not lost on the newest Verizon IndyCar Series regular.
“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… It will be a pleasure.”
Images courtesy of IndyCar.