The 500 miles drivers rack up in the Indianapolis 500 is an easy Sunday drive compared to the distance their teams will total from early May through mid-June.
Starting with three weeks in Indianapolis for the Angie’s List Grand Prix and then the Indianapolis 500, Verizon IndyCar Series teams become virtual non-stop fulcrums of motion.
Almost immediately after the checkered flag fell Sunday at the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, teams pulled up stakes and moved operations nearly 300 miles north for this weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit races June 3-5 at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park street course.
There’s little rest for the weary after that. Once the final car pulls off the track late Sunday afternoon at Belle Isle, teams begin the lengthy journey to Fort Worth, Texas, for the Firestone 600 on the high-speed Texas Motor Speedway oval June 10-11.
For Verizon IndyCar Series teams based in Indianapolis like Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, going from Indy to Detroit to Texas and back is a roughly 2,500-mile roundtrip.
That doesn’t even include the additional 10,000-mile journey that CGRT’s sports car program is making this month to France to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, nor Verizon IndyCar Series tests after Texas at Road America (for rookie Max Chilton) and Watkins Glen International (a tire test for Firestone).
“The meat of our season really started about four weeks ago,” said Mike Hull, the team’s managing director. “Indianapolis is really like the down payment; it gets us going.”
Team Penske, based in Mooresville, N.C., logs more miles. After Indianapolis, race cars and equipment headed 550 miles to the team’s home base for a quick turnaround. Then it’s 600 miles back north to Detroit this weekend, another 600 miles back to Mooresville and the 2,200-mile roundtrip venture to Texas. A grand total of about 5,000 miles.
“Our operation is unique to almost everyone else in the paddock because of where we’re domiciled at, in North Carolina,” said Chris Yoder, Team Penske’s transportation director who also worked as a spotter for Helio Castroneves at the Indy 500. “That’s a unique aspect of how we go about moving everything. Our premise, the way we operate globally, is if we can get the trucks home for at least one business day in the shop, we will do that at all costs.”
Team Penske travels with up to 11 pieces of equipment, primarily race and support transporters, for each race.
“It’s a big move,” Yoder said. “It’s definitely a challenge. We’re very fortunate to have very good people and we prepare very well in advance here.
“For example, while in Indianapolis, we’re already preparing for Detroit at the same time.”
Team Penske minimizes the challenges of being in Mooresville by operating a 46-passenger plane that transports most crew members back home after each race.
“The team is on the plane after the race and then everybody reports to work Monday morning as if we weren’t even at the racetrack,” Yoder said. “They’ll work on the cars all day Monday and Tuesday, the trucks leave Tuesday night and will be at (the next venue) Wednesday or so.
“The bonus we have of operating in Mooresville is we have collective resources amongst all different teams. For example, when we need additional truck drivers, we can use some of the guys that work on the NASCAR program. I look after everything: NASCAR, INDYCAR and sports cars. I pull people where I need people and take away people from where I don’t need people. It’s all intertwined to do what we have to do.”
Another part of the challenge facing Verizon IndyCar Series teams is how quickly they must adjust to the nuances of each race, going from a road-course event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to a 2.5-mile race on IMS’ fabled oval, then an island-based street course at Belle Isle to a high-speed oval at Texas.
Travel is only part of the equation. Preparation for all four races began months earlier, typically back in January.
CGRT typically has 60 people on the road for races, while Team Penske has about 70. When they’re away from home for extended periods of time, it’s imperative that team members get enough rest.
“We’ve practiced a lot and that means we know when truck drivers need to be there and when they don’t, when mechanics need to be there and when they don’t, when the people that support us internally need to be working and when they don’t,” Hull said. “Each platoon of people we have supports the next.”
Hull and Yoder agree that neither team would be successful if not for its backbone: solid employees.
“When you ask what’s the most important part for us logistically, the answer is always the people,” Hull said.
But having good people is only one aspect. There’s also the need to keep everyone motivated, even if a team is struggling on the track.
“You have to really have everybody engaged in the process daily,” Hull said. “They have to think that today is the most important day for them.
“That’s what we emphasize. We try to win every day, whether it’s the racetrack, the building, on the road, the Holiday Inn, wherever it’s at. By doing that type of thing, we’ve had our fair share of success.
“We have a roomful of carnivorous people here. When the chum is on the water, they get after it. It’s really important to keep those piranha all schooling in the right direction.”