A.J. Foyt Racing has signed Tatiana Calderon to drive a third car for the team in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2022.
Calderon will also be the first female driver with a regular seat in the series in nearly a decade, the last being Simona de Silvestro in 2013.
Calderon will team with 2021 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood and Dalton Kellett.
Legendary IndyCar driver and team owner A.J. Foyt gave himself and his race team a nice present for his 87th birthday on Sunday, signing female driver Tatiana Calderon to drive a third car for his team in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2022.
Calderon’s signing was announced during Monday’s first of two preseason media days in Indianapolis. She will become the first female driver to race for the four-time Indianapolis 500 winning Foyt.
She will also be the first female driver with a regular seat in the series in nearly a decade, the last being Simona de Silvestro in 2013. Calderon will compete on road and street courses, which make up 12 of the season’s 17 races. She will not drive in the Indianapolis 500, the team said.
“Obviously I've only tested the car one day back in July, so we thought to take things easy to start off with, the road courses, build up to hopefully test in an oval, see how I feel, see how my confidence with the car comes,” Calderon said during Monday’s first of two media days for the NTT IndyCar Series. “But of course, who wouldn't love to do Indy 500 one day. Yeah, we're just taking it step by step.”
A native of Colombia, Calderon will carry primary sponsorship on her No. 11 Chevrolet from ROKiT Group, which will also be primary sponsor for her AJ Foyt Racing (AJFR) teammate and 2021 Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kirkwood, who will pilot Foyt’s No. 14 in the entire season.
Dalton Kellett will drive AJFR’s third car, the No. 4 Chevy, for a second straight full season and will carry primary sponsorship by K-Line Insulators USA.
Calderon had been on AJFR’s radar for a while. When the team gave her an opportunity to test with it last July, she cemented the organization’s interest in her for the long-term.
“When the chance came to test an IndyCar last July, I felt really great with the team in the car,” Calderon said. “We've been in discussions really since then, but good things take time, and we finally managed to put everything together last week.”
The team is expected to soon announce a fourth driver, a part-timer who will replace the 28-year-old Calderon in the five oval track races.
“We welcome Tatiana Calderón in car No. 11 joining Kyle Kirkwood in car 14,” team president Larry Foyt said in a statement. “Tatiana showed a lot of potential in her test at Mid-Ohio (last July). With Dalton Kellett in the No. 4 … I think our three-car team is in for an exciting season.”
The 2022 IndyCar season kicks off on February 27 with the street course race in St. Petersburg, Florida.
"Ever since I started my single seater career in the United States eleven years ago, IndyCar has been a reference for me and it’s a dream come true to be on the grid this year,” Calderon said. “I can’t wait to get to St. Petersburg for the first race of the season.
“I’m well aware of the challenge ahead, but this is the chance of a lifetime and I’m keen on making the most of it.”
Calderon, who calls fellow Colombian and former full-time IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya “my idol,” comes to IndyCar after spending the last two seasons racing in Super Formula in Japan, as well as serving as a test driver the last four years for the Alfa Romeo Formula One team.
“I think Super Formula is a great preparation for any single seater series,” said Calderon, who now makes her home in Madrid, Spain. “I think it's a super quick car, very tricky. Also I had to learn how to communicate differently. The culture was very different, as well. But I think that has prepared me more for this opportunity.
“Of course I don't expect anything to be very easy, particularly at the beginning, because I've only done one test day in IndyCar. I think we'll have probably three days (of testing and practice) before the first race.
“A lot of things to take in, but I think it was a great preparation with Super Formula and sports cars that I have been racing the last couple of years, as well, to help with fuel save, with tire save and pit stops and all that. I think it's been quite good for my career.”
While Calderon still hasn’t met team patriarch A.J. Foyt in-person, it’s quite certain she’ll be spending a lot of time with him this season.
“Obviously, I've read a lot of what he's done, about the Indy 500, as well, everything that he’s won,” Calderon said of the elder Foyt. “I think it will be a privilege to be able to share some experiences with him, to look at him in the eyes. I think that's one of the biggest things I would say sometimes when you have that connection, that feeling with somebody. Hopefully it will be very soon.”
Although she’s uncertain whether she’ll continue in her reserve role for Alfa Romeo in F1 when she’s not focusing on IndyCar races, Calderon will test later this week in Sebring, Florida, along with several other drivers she’ll compete against in this year’s IndyCar season.
“IndyCar has always been on my radar,” Calderon said. “I think I've always been very competitive, and I want to be where the best drivers are at, and I think IndyCar is pretty high up there on the single seater ladder. I've always enjoyed single seaters quite a lot, as well.
“It's an honor to be racing in IndyCar after I started my career 10 years ago, and I was just watching those races. Yeah, huge privilege in that sense, and I think here in America, in IndyCar, there has been many female drivers coming through, so I think there is more opportunity at the moment for us here.
“I will obviously make the most out of this opportunity, and I'm really hoping that I can do well and inspire even more girls to join in in karting, in single seaters, and that they know this is also a great opportunity to showcase that. I can't wait to get started and see where we end up in the first race, but obviously build up to it step by step, and I think as long as we improve every time we're on track, then I'll be happy.”
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.