Helio Castroneves and his Marlboro Team Penske pit crew won today's Checkers/Rally's Pit Stop Challenge, setting a record time of 7.7365 seconds in the semi-final round. The team took home $50,000 of the Challenge's newly increased $100,000 ...
Helio Castroneves and his Marlboro Team Penske pit crew won today's Checkers/Rally's Pit Stop Challenge, setting a record time of 7.7365 seconds in the semi-final round. The team took home $50,000 of the Challenge's newly increased $100,000 purse.
"Man, it's been interesting this month for the entire organization," Castroneves said. "Sam capturing, almost every day, the number one spot, including the pole position. Now we capture the pit stop competition. It's big for everyone, and every team out there knows it. So hopefully we'll continue in that direction.
"But these guys," he said, pointing to the crew, "I'd say are incredible. When Rick called me and asked me to come in and get some practice in, now I understand what they mean when they say hit the marks."
The team takes pit stops seriously. "We practice in the wintertime," said crew chief Rick Rinaman, "and not just for race situations. We practiced the Indy 500 pit stop back at the shop in January. You know, we practice all week and we have drivers - substitute guys that would fit in and get pushed in and stop on the mark. Sometimes they're long, sometimes they're short and sometimes they're right on. Which gives us the confidence that we can change, no matter where they stop.
"Then I said 'You know, Helio's back in town. Let's get him in here, put him in the car, and give him an idea what the brakes are like, where he can stop it.' And he came in on his day off. Believe me, we all appreciated it, it showed that he was behind us and we're behind him. Boy, it paid off today. He couldn't have hit his marks any better.
"And these guys behind me - what a job. Unbelievable."
The Challenge had a new structure, as well as a new purse, this year. Ten cars went through a qualifying round, with the six fastest times advancing to a three-level elimination. The fastest two went directly to the semi-final, while the next four battled through a quarter-final. In each stop, the teams must change all four tires while making a simulated fuel connection to the car. The cars drive into the pit box from a starting line a short distance away, and accelerate out after the work is done, with the time stopped counting. Penalty times are added for errors such as running over an air hose or failing to fully tighten lug nuts.
While only the time stopped, and not who leaves the pit first, counts, some teams tried to fox their opponents by leaving the starting line slowly. Dario Franchitti and his Andretti Green Racing team used the tactic successfully to advance to the final round.
"I knew Dario was waiting before he left," Castroneves said. "Before, I was like, right on the green flag. So I saw he was waiting and I thought that I was going to mess up, so I waited to see if he messed up as well. I knew that I just had to beat him, and I knew that we'd be able to get the time and I'd be the fastest to come out.
"I almost messed up, I went too fast, but I stopped. The brakes worked, and I stopped right there."
That fit with Rinaman's plans for the final run. "When we did that 7.7 in the semifinals, the object of the final stop was just to be smooth," he said. "I told them just to do what you need to do, and hopefully we'll come out on top, and that's what we did today."
The pit stop competition is about crews stepping up and excelling. A team that stepped up this month was PDM Racing, led by chief mechanic Brad Brewer. When driver Thiago Medeiros and the team's only car met the wall two days before qualifying, the team could have been finished. Brewer rallied the crew, borrowed parts, and burned the midnight oil to repair the car. Medeiros put in a solid run last Sunday to put the car in the show.
For his leadership and effort, Brewer was honored today with the 20th Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award. Presented annually since 1987, the award pays tribute to them memory of the late Clint Brawner, chief mechanic on six Championship winning cars. It rewards a chief mechanic at Indianapolis who "exemplifies the mechanical and scientific creativity, ingenuity, perserverance, dedication, enthusiasm and expertise" of its namesake.