The goal in motorsports is to get from Point A to Point B in the least amount of time. But this month, those working in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES face an additional challenge to end the season.
They must get their race weekend operations from Point A to Point B to Point C as efficiently as possible.
The challenge was created by the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season ending with three West Coast events on consecutive weekends – Sept. 12 at Portland (Oregon) International Raceway, Sept. 19 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, and Sept. 26 in Long Beach, California. While the venues are only in two states and separated by only 1,000 miles, the separation from their predominantly Midwestern bases required an inordinate amount of planning.
Teams, manufacturers, suppliers -- even INDYCAR itself – have been working on plans to transport staff, equipment, spare parts, tires and literally everything else needed for three events in as few of shipments as possible. With different objectives, it seems each organization has a different plan.
For example, Indianapolis-based Performance Tire Services, which executes delivery and maintenance of Firestone’s INDYCAR tires, will send two trailers of 700-plus tires to each of the three venues, with three additional trailers carrying additional equipment to all three races. Most of the staff will remain on the West Coast to maintain continuity and avoid time zone adjustments.
Weather creates the biggest unknown for the company owned by Steve Butz. Rain tires are always on site for road course races, but in this case, there are two places where the September weather can be unpredictable – Portland and Laguna Seca – with the Long Beach race to follow.
“So, do you spend (the effort) to get rain tires to Laguna not knowing if you’ll need them there, too?” Butz said. “I think we need to, so we will.”
The preparations of Dallara USA are based on making sure it has enough spare parts on hand to cover potential crash damage. Fortunately, incidents at Portland and Laguna Seca usually involve front-wing damage, so the Indianapolis-based company has focused on preparing for those potential needs. But crashes at street course races lined with concrete barriers usually damage additional pieces, so INDYCAR’s chassis manufacturer must be extra prepared for Long Beach.
“Everything goes in one truck, but we have to be ready to ship out parts as needed,” said Stefano DePonti, CEO and general manager of Dallara USA.
Everyone seems to be benefitting from the two full weeks between the most recent race, Aug. 21 at World Wide Technology Raceway, and when trucks need to leave for the West Coast early this week. Dallara has used that time to fill back orders from the race teams.
“Mainly front main planes and front-end plates,” DePonti said.
The race teams are taking different approaches to the upcoming trip. Team Penske, which is located in North Carolina, and several of the Indianapolis-based teams will have their equipment on the West Coast for the duration, but the crews will fly back and forth between the Portland and Laguna Seca races. Chip Ganassi Racing will keep its crew with its four cars for the duration.
The logistics are a lot to think through.
“It’s a little more (planning) than normal, yeah,” said Scott Harner, AJ Foyt Racing’s vice president of operations. “When we have back-to-back races, we usually come back to the shop (to regroup). This might seem like an obvious thing, but normally we don’t take everything with us.
“In this case, because we’re running a third car at Long Beach (for Charlie Kimball) and in case we have an issue with the other two cars at Portland or Laguna, we have to think about everything we might need, sidepods and such.”
Not having an oval track in this group of West Coast races simplifies preparation because those crashes create a need for even more spare items.
“Like most of the other teams, we’re preparing not only spare parts and pieces you would need to put on the car if you have an incident, but we also have to account for the normal wear and tear,” said Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing’s managing director. “The biggest problem isn’t what you leave with, it’s what you need when you’re a thousand miles from home. And conditions are different when you’re working in parking lots for three weeks instead of being under (your own) roof.”
One benefit for Team Penske is that each of its four cars will carry the same livery for each of the three races, significantly reducing detailing.
“This is literally a blessing for us,” said Chris Yoder, Team Penske’s director of transportation said of the scheduling format. “Three road courses are much easier to prepare for than say a month of the Indy 500 or going from Gateway, an oval, to Portland the way we used to.
“Changing the cars from a short oval (configuration) to a road course (configuration) would add to the planning.”
Yoder also noted that the working conditions should be better on the West Coast, which typically doesn’t have the heat and humidity of the Midwest, where INDYCAR has raced throughout July and August.
“Those were brutal,” he said of the four races. “As for the planning for these next three races, we’re lucky that our resources allow us to have the capacity to take all the spares and equipment we’ll need, so when we leave here, we’ll have everything with us … unless there’s a major issue, of course.”
That’s the wild card for everyone at this point, another set of circumstances to plan for.
“That’s all part of it,” Hull said. “Hopefully the Dallara parts truck is full.”
NBC will air the Grand Prix of Portland (Sept. 12) and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (Sept. 19) at 3 p.m. ET. The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (Sept. 26) can be viewed on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET.