I grew up as the son of a racing engineer, so from very early on I was conditioned to pay attention to the details. My dad’s meticulous and methodical approach—from his previous work at the race track to his current challenges of navigating life as an avocado farmer—has given me insight into how focusing on the details can bring success.
In the ultra-competitive world of the Verizon IndyCar Series, getting the details right or wrong could mean starting the race from P1 or P15. We’re constantly searching for hundredths of seconds from the car on the time sheet. The competition is just that close.
It starts with the setup sheet. There are almost 200 items and settings engineers can change on the car. Putting all of those variables together, there are virtually trillions of possible combinations! No two cars are identical, even if they look alike on track to the naked eye. A reasonably small change to the wing angle could have a big effect on downforce levels. A big part of the car setup depends on the specific track. While the setup for a road course and oval car are quite different, each individual track also has its own characteristics and idiosyncrasies. During setup day at a street course, we’ll take a walk around the entire circuit to determine what changes have been made since the previous year. We’re looking at curbs, grooves in the pavement and any spots where water could pool in case it’s a wet race. Making note of the details could save us crucial time during qualifying.
Once we’re on track for practice, qualifying or the race, the car is linked up with telemetry, which relays information from the car on track to our engineers on pit lane. This helps the team monitor the details—engine, tire, steering, brake and throttle performance—from the pit stand so they’re constantly making decisions and improvements based on instant feedback. At times, the engineers can use the data to identify and diagnose issues before they even show up on track, saving precious time and avoiding costly damage.
My steering wheel’s dash display also shows me the tire pressure, brake and oil temperatures, fuel numbers and other car data. As soon as I pull into pit lane after a practice run, the crew members are checking tires for abnormalities or punctures, meticulously looking for any sign of damage to the body of the car and checking fuel numbers to align with the car data system.
The attention to detail never stops.
Before we even strap into the car, we’ve already prepared our bodies to race at speeds of 230 mph. Drivers are professional athletes; we've honed our ability to cope with high G-force loads, make quick decisions while driving three-wide through a turn and building the muscle to maneuver 700 horsepower (without power steering!) is all part of the equation.
My trainer has years of motorsports-specific experience, working with drivers and pit crews, so he knows what we need to do during the week at the gym to be successful on race weekend. A small tweak in training could mean big gains once we hit the track. It also comes down to details in the food we eat; like we fuel the car, we must properly fuel our bodies.
I eat a very basic meal during every on-track day—just plain pasta, plain chicken breast, salad with no dressing, and fruit. It’s weighed and counted for carbs and protein, so I’m giving my body the best opportunity for consistency and performance before I put my helmet on for a two or three hour race.
As drivers we understand racing can be a dangerous sport, but taking the right precautions is a good first step. From a highly-tested helmet to fire resistant undershirts, getting the right gear is just as important as the right car setup in order to take the checkered flag.
For me, it’s about finding the highest quality products possible. Like the folks at Rudy Project, I appreciate seeing effort put into the details. The research, testing and tweaking of a piece of gear, whether that’s the fit of a race boot or my Rudy Project Tralyx and Spinhawk sunglasses, are the special factors in separating good enough with superior products.
All of the bits and pieces of a race weekend add up. As we hit the halfway point of the 2018 IndyCar season, I’m really enjoying being a part of the Carlin race team as they tackle the details during their first year in the series. And now it’s starting to show in our performances—stronger qualifying sessions and consistent top-10 finishes. Like the lesson I learned from my dad, success can be traced back to those little details.