TEN SECONDS: THE ANATOMY OF A PEP BOYS IRL PIT STOP
LAS VEGAS, Sept. 25, 1998 - While a talented driver, strong engine and well tuned chassis are important ingredients in any auto racing victory, skilled work in the pits often makes the difference between winning and losing.
That's certainly true in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, where the average margin of victory through 10 races this season has been 3.32 seconds. That small slice of time can easily be gained or lost in the pits.
And few teams in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League gain time in the pits better than Nienhouse Motorsports, which fields the Reebok Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear driven by Davey Hamilton. The team, then known as Galles Racing, won the Coors Indy Pit Stop Challenge five of the last 10 years at the Indianapolis 500. Businessman Bob Nienhouse bought the team from Rick Galles after last season, with Galles and crew staying onboard this year.
Hamilton is second in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League point standings entering the season-ending Las Vegas 500K on Oct. 11. He has only one finish lower than ninth through the first 10 races of this season, and quick pit work has played a major role in that consistency. Darren Russell, the chief mechanic for the talented Nienhouse team, is responsible for every aspect of the team's pit strategy and pit stop execution. He changes the right front tire on Hamilton's car during every stop and signals Hamilton to leave the pit when service is finished.
Russell, 32, joined Galles Racing in 1993. He recently took a few minutes to share the anatomy of a pit stop with Nienhouse public relations director Cori Galles.
QUESTION: What do you do during a pit stop? DARREN RUSSELL: From the moment that Davey enters pit lane to the moment he leaves, I am responsible for the safety of all of my pit crew and the driver.
Q: Can you expand on that? DR: As the person that changes the right front tire, I am responsible for waving Davey in and out of the pits. As soon as Davey stops the car on the marks, I change his right front tire. When I am done, I stand in front of the car, and all Davey does is watch my eyes. As soon as the car is dropped and the fuelers are done and have backed away, I check to make sure that the conditions are right for him to leave the pit. Then I wave him out. It is important for a driver not to hesitate when leaving the pits, because when I am waving him out that means the conditions are clear right now. If he's not focused on me and goes too late, the conditions might have changed. All of this happens anywhere from 6 to 11 seconds. Because eye contact is so important, I do not wear sunglasses during a race.
Q: How did you get your experience working in the pits? DR: In 1994, I participated in my first pit stop with Galles Racing at the Michigan 500 with Adrian Fernandez. I was changing the left rear tire. The person waving the driver out got confused and waved Adrian out while the fueler was still engaged in the car. There was a fire, but thankfully no one was seriously injured. Although it was an unfortunate accident, it taught me better than words ever could how important it is to be aware of every condition in your pit and to be absolutely certain when sending my driver out that conditions are safe. Safety is my first concern during a pit stop.
Q: What happens in your pit from the moment that you tell Davey to pit? DR: As soon as Davey drives past us after we radio him to come in, we go over the wall. I look down pit lane, and when I know he is on the back straightaway I tell him if the pits are clear or busy going in and busy going out. I also tell him to watch his pit lane speed. When Davey enters pit lane, he tells me, "Pit lane." This is especially important this season because there are two identical Reebok cars on the track. If he cannot see me, he tells me to jump up and down, which I had to do in Atlanta.
Q: During the race you are responsible for waving Davey in and out of the pits. What kind of conditions do you look at when determining when to wave him in and out of the pit? DR: When I am waving Davey out of the pits, I look at the cars coming down pit lane for anyone that might be entering their pits ahead of Davey. If everything is clear, then I wave him out. Davey uses his own judgment with cars that are already in front of him, and basically it is up to him to stop if a car pulls out in front of him on pit lane. However, he may choose not to stop and do a bit of dicing. The pits can be a pretty exciting place when there are a lot of stops going on, and if you play your cards right you can gain a few positions.
Q: Which end of the pits do you prefer to use? DR: The best place for our team to be pitted is as close to Turn 1 as possible. This is for several reasons. First, if pitted at the end of pit lane, Davey only has to use the speed limiter going into the pits. This is because we are close enough to pit exit that he most likely will not exceed the pit speed limit before he exits pit lane. Second, one of the most dangerous aspects of pit stops is when the team in front of you has a car coming into the pits, and your driver is trying to leave. By being at the end of pit lane, this alleviates any situation where another car runs into your driver as he is entering his pit.
Q: What do you consider to be a fast stop for your team? DR: For a full fuel stop (35 gallons) with a four-tire change, it should take us about 11 seconds. For a stop with tires only, it should take us six seconds. Full-fuel pit stops generally take longer at the end of the race because the fuel flow is slower due to less pressure in the main tank.
Q: What do you do as a team to prepare for pit stops? DR: We generally practice pit stops each day at the race shop in Albuquerque. One of the main reasons we do this is so we can practice making mistakes. You need to be prepared for the best and the worst when it comes to pit stops. This can rang from a wicker change to a pit fire. When you are changing a tire and you make a mistake or your wheel nut flies off, if you know what to do you can fix the problem before the fuelers are done. Then it won't affect your pit stop. One of the things Rick Galles has embedded into our brains throughout the years is that remaining focused and being smooth during a pit stop means everything. I think that this philosophy is one of the reasons we have good pit stops, that and the fact we practice every day. There are a few things that we do differently than other teams in our pit stops. They are little things, that although they might not seem to make a difference, help us have fast, clean pit stops. I cannot get into detail about them, but they go along with our team philosophy that attention to detail is everything.
Q: Often during practice you can be heard telling Davey to hit his marks. Explain the importance of this. DR: When Davey comes into the pits during the race, it isn't too hard for him to hit his front tires on the marks that we lay out for him. However, it can be hard to get the rear end lined up with the back marks. There are several reasons why it is important for him to hit his marks during a pit stop.
First, the fuelers will not be able to reach the car if Davey is far off of his marks or has come in crooked. This can also be a potential hazard to the fueler if he is having difficulty reaching the car.
Second, the right rear tire changer will have to go farther out onto pit lane to change his tire if the car is crooked, and this puts him in a dangerous position with other cars moving down pit lane.
Q: Explain the command, "Go yellow on fuel." DR: The car has eight different fuel settings. When we tell Davey to go yellow on his fuel, he is going to 88 percent. This leans the motor out, which uses less fuel when he is going slow. If we were to go to 88 percent at full speed, then the motor would not get enough fuel and blow up. Basically, going yellow on the fuel is a way to lean out the motor and conserve fuel during yellows. Typically, an IRL car can get 2 miles per gallon at 100 percent during a green and 7 miles per gallon at 88 percent during a yellow.
Russell also outlined the various roles that Nienhouse crew members play during a pit stop. Most Pep Boys Indy Racing League teams use the same pit crew setup, Russell said. Some crew members perform their duties behind the pit wall during a stop, as only six crew members are allowed "over the wall." .Right Front Tire Changer .Left Front Tire Changer .Right Rear Tire Changer .Left Rear Tire Changer .Fueler: This person fuels the car with methanol, a clear-burning fuel. .Vent/Airjack: This person raises the car on the jacks with an air hose. Inserts the vent into the car for the fueler. .Left Front Tire Feed: This person grabs the tire of the left front changer when it is removed from the car. This person also grabs the wheel gun of the right front tire changer and drags it over the wall. .Left Rear Tire Feed: This person grabs the tire of the left rear changer when it is removed from the car. This person also grabs the wheel gun of the right rear tire changer and drags it over the wall. .Fire Extinguisher: This person sprays water on the car after fuelers have disengaged. This ensures that no methanol is burning around the car. Methanol is a clear-burning fuel, so it is invisible during a fire. .Water Bottle: This person delivers a bottle of water to the driver via a long stick. The driver usually grabs the bottle and throws it over the wall in a matter of seconds. .Starter: This person stands behind the wall, by the rear of the car, with the starter in case the car stalls. .Deadman: This person pulls down the fuel lever on the tank so the fuelers can start fueling the car.
LAS VEGAS 500K NOTEBOOK
Event schedule: The third annual Las Vegas 500K is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 11. PPG Pole qualifying starts at noon (PDT) Oct. 10.
Pep Boys Indy Racing League practice sessions will take place at 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 9, and 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 10.
Broadcast schedule: The Las Vegas 500K will be televised live on TNN at 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 11. A same-day delayed telecast of PPG Pole qualifying will be shown on SpeedVision at 9 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 10.
The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 11, with a pre-race show starting at 3:30 p.m.