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As Foyt seeks past glory, team retools with Cannon’s engineering expertise, title record

The NBC Motor Sports crew sits down ahead of IndyCar's season opener at St. Petersburg to give their predictions on who will have a breakout season, which driver will record the most podiums in 2023 and more.

ST PETERSBURG, Florida -- Bigger isn’t always better for IndyCar race engineer Michael Cannon. The 61-year-old is always looking for a new challenge.
Cannon believes he has found it as the technical director at AJ Foyt Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series.

The native of Montreal, Quebec, has more than 40 years of experience as a race team engineer.

Most recently, Cannon was an engineer at powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing for Scott Dixon, whom he helped win his sixth IndyCar championship. Prior to that, Cannon worked at Dale Coyne Racing with young Santino Ferrucci in 2019.

Dale Coyne’s team and AJ Foyt Racing both are smaller operations in IndyCar.

SEASON OPENER: Details for watching the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend
Cannon prefers that because he can play a bigger role in guiding a team.

“There are a variety of reasons,” Cannon told NBC Sports at St. Petersburg, site of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “One of the things is I worked with Santino in 2019 and I happen to think the world of him.

“I feel a lot more hands on and a lot more accountable to the whole team. I enjoy working with young rookie drivers that come into the series like Benjamin Pedersen.

“It was an opportunity to take a team that hasn’t contended in a couple of years and move them up the grid.

“It’s a passion project for me to help a smaller team compete with the best in the series.”

During Friday opening practice at St. Pete, Foyt’s two drivers were both on the bottom half of the speed chart. Ferrucci posted the 20th-fastest speed, while Pedersen was in last after a light brush with the wall.

It’s been years since AJ Foyt Racing has been a power in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Its last victory came in the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with Takuma Sato, who finished second in the next race on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and led the points heading into the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But Sato finished 17th in points in a disappointing finish to the team owned by the legendary A.J. Foyt, the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.

Sato remained at Foyt through 2016 with a revolving cast of teammates including Conor Daly, Martin Plowman, Jack Hawksworth and Alex Tagliani.

After Sato left in 2017 to join Andretti Autosport (and win the Indy 500), the team had Carlos Munoz, Daly (again), Matheus Leist, Tony Kanaan, James Davison, Charlie Kimball, Dalton Kellett, Sebastien Bourdais, JR Hildebrand, Tatiana Calderon, and Kyle Kirkwood.

Its best finish in the points standings during that stretch was Sato’s 14th-place finish in 2015.

In addition to a long cast of drivers, there also was a long list of engineers.

Foyt turned the team over to his son, Larry, who has tried to recapture some of the past glory of the proud operation with a variety of leadership moves.

The latest was hiring Cannon as the team’s technical director during the offseason.

Cannon hired respected veteran race engineers Daniele Cucchiaroni and Roberto Garcia.

In November, team president Larry Foyt hired team manager Craig Brooks, who previously worked as the technical director for Indy NXT by Firestone (formerly Indy Lights) for the past 13 years and was a technical consultant for the IMSA series on a part-time basis since 2016.

Foyt also hired Chris “Beaker” Sheffer as the shop manager in Indianapolis. Sheffer brings a wealth of experience from a variety of management and technical roles in the motorsports industry for the past two decades. Six more mechanics were hired as Foyt beefed up the operation for this year.

“We certainly have many new faces in the team this year, but I can say the feeling is very positive and everyone is pulling in the same direction,” Larry Foyt said. “We know it will take some time to get where we want to be, but we are looking forward to the challenge and proving that we are heading in the right direction.”

At both Coyne and Foyt, each crewmember must shoulder a greater workload than at the bigger teams.

“The success I had at Dale Coyne Racing goes hand in hand with (engineers) Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson,” Cannon said. “Ross Bunnell was the assistant to Craig, and now he is Scott Dixon’s race engineer.

“There were a lot of great talented people there. We had Sebastien Bourdais as the driver (at Dale Coyne Racing) so we should have been doing well.”

AJ Foyt Racing has two race shops. One is based at the original shop in Waller, Texas and the other is in Speedway, Indiana, just a few blocks away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Brooks oversees both from Indy.

Cucchiaroni takes care of the No. 14 car that Ferrucci is driving this year, and Garcia overseas the No. 55 Chevrolet for rookie Pedersen.

“Both are very bright guys,” Cannon said. “I’m pleasantly surprised how much talent is under this roof.

“I didn’t have any idea. I had no inkling.”

Having two race shops presents logistical difficulties.

The Speedway, Indiana, shop does the sub-assembly, gearboxes and running gear. The Waller, Texas, shop prepares the cars.

Cannon said it’s awkward and not as efficient as other teams, but he knew going in how the team was structured given its team owner’s roots in Texas.

“It’s AJ Foyt Racing, it’s had a team in Texas forever and people have built their lives around AJ Foyt Racing and the IndyCar team,” Cannon said. “What are you going to do, uproot them?

“That wouldn’t be fair.”

From 2020-22, Cannon worked with the greatest driver of his generation (and perhaps the greatest ever in IndyCar) with Dixon.

Together they accomplished a lot of great things, including Dixon’s sixth IndyCar championship in 2020 and Indianapolis 500 poles in 2021 and 2022. The No. 9 team also won six times with Cannon as race engineer.

Having a chance to work with both Dixon and IndyCar’s all-time greatest winner in Foyt is a tremendous honor for Cannon.

“It’s fantastic to work with that many legends, it’s 40 years of racing for me,” the Canadian said. “Somewhere, there is a picture of AJ Foyt holding me when I was 3 years old.

“Scott is very much the AJ Foyt/Mario Andretti of this era. I’m not sure he gets the credit.

“He is quiet and flies under the radar for a guy who has won 53 races, six championships not to mention his accomplishments at Daytona and Sebring to be called under the radar.

“He is as good as he’s ever been.”

Cannon’s father was a race driver and shared a Chevrolet Corvette Grand with Foyt for several sports car races for team owner John Mecom. Cannon also has a photo taken when he tried to pull Graham Hill’s mustache off at Riverside, California, in 1965.

As a kid, Cannon learned from George Follmer, Sam Posey, Peter Revson, Jackie Stewart and Swede Savage in Trans-Am and Can-Am Racing.

As a racing mechanic and engineer, Cannon started his career as an assistant to engineer Lee Dykstra with Patrick Carpentier in CART. He then worked with Alex Tagliani and Carpentier at Forsyth Racing. Paul Tracy joined the team during the Champ Car years.

He also worked with Mario Dominguez, AJ Allmendinger, Buddy Rice, Robert Doornbos, EJ Viso, Simona De Silvestro, Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Conor Daly, Sebastien Bourdais, and Ed Jones.

The opportunity with Dixon came when Chip Ganassi Racing needed a replacement after promoting Chris Simmons to performance director.

“It was completely out of the blue,” Cannon said. “They moved Chris Simmons into the new role and that opened a position on Scott’s car, and they were looking for somebody to round out their roster.

“They had fabulous results over the years. They wanted to bolster their Indy 500 record, I had a reasonable track record there, they took a flyer on me, and it all worked out.”

Cannon treasures his time at Chip Ganassi Racing. He enjoyed the spirit of everybody dedicated to winning races for that team.

“There was no question why we were there, and everybody did their best to help the other guy on the team do his job and do his job as best he could,” Cannon said. “That spirit sets them apart in my mind. They are a fantastic group.”

Of course, there was the opportunity to work with Dixon, who had enjoyed success with both Simmons and Erik Bretzman as his engineers over the past two decades.

“I brought a little bit to the team, and they brought a lot to me,” Cannon said. “It was being around Scott, Dario Franchitti, Marcus Ericsson and Jimmie Johnson and people like Chris Simmons and Brad Goldberg and Julian Robertson, the entire team.

“We all brought value.

“Scott is a classic example of a lot more great drivers that created great engineers than vice versa.”

Dixon understands why Cannon might have wanted to leave Chip Ganassi Racing to be at a team where he can feel more like a “gunslinger.” He liked the fact that Cannon thought “out of the box” and brought a refreshing viewpoint to his role.

“I love Cannon,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “He is a great person. Our first year together in 2020, we won the championship and had a lot of success. You never want to break up a combo, but he has moved on to Foyt as a technical director.

“As a person, he’s a great person and someone that I love. I loved having him at the team and he did a tremendous job.”

Larry Foyt had been talking to Cannon for the past five or six years and when the team signed Ferrucci as the driver, Cannon decided to make a career change.


“I enjoyed my time with Ganassi, but it was time to do something different,” Cannon said. “I’m 61 years old. I can do as I please.

“That struck me as an interesting challenge. We are going to try to build something better for this team.”

Cannon brings supreme confidence that he knows the secret to help turn the team around at the Indianapolis 500. He admits the team won’t “storm the field” at St. Petersburg.

But he wants to put everything in place to be a contender at the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s like baking a cake, you have to have all the ingredients,” Cannon explained. “The one thing I can bring to this team is I can walk through the door and say, ‘I’ve been able to have a car on the front row of the Indianapolis 500 car three years running.’

“Anything I tell you about getting a car ready for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you can’t doubt, you can’t wonder. You can’t waste my time. Are we shooting rubber bands at the moon here?’

“There is a certain amount of gravitas there.”

Cannon is confident he can back it up this season now that he is playing a bigger role on a smaller team.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500