IRL: Team Penske Pit Notes 2004-07-07

Marlboro Team Penske Pit Notes July 7, 2004 MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE PERSONNEL PROFILE: ELECTRONIC ENGINEERS Throughout the remainder of the 2004 Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar® Series season, Marlboro Team Penske's Pit Notes will be ...

Marlboro Team Penske Pit Notes
July 7, 2004

MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE PERSONNEL PROFILE: ELECTRONIC ENGINEERS

Throughout the remainder of the 2004 Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar® Series season, Marlboro Team Penske's Pit Notes will be featuring an in-depth look at some of the key positions involved with the on-track performance of the #3 and #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyotas. For the first installment of this Series, this week's edition features Chris Gantner and Tim White - the electronic engineers for Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves respectively.

Electronic engineers have numerous responsibilities, but as Gantner has eloquently summarized, "We're in charge of anything that plugs in or has a battery." Whether it's sensors on the car, radios for the Team, or the golf carts in the paddock, Marlboro Team Penske's electronic engineers are responsible for making sure everything ticks, runs or records.

During a race weekend the electronic engineers have the important job of insuring that each component of the car's electrical system is up and running throughout the weekend. Friday and Saturday are usually days to make sure every sensor is calibrated and working correctly as well as gather data from the day's practice sessions. Gantner and White also work with the race engineers to analyze the data and prepare their race strategy.

In addition to recording and monitoring telemetry, the electronic engineers work with the race engineers to run various fuel levels throughout the sessions. If Grant Newbury, Castroneves' race engineer, wants to work on the qualifying set-up, it's Tim White's job to make sure that whenever the car comes into the pits it has the same amount of fuel that it will use during Castroneves' qualifying run.

On race day, the electronic engineers' primary job is to calculate fuel strategy. There are countless factors that go into fuel calculation. "We look at a number of factors, such as how the car is consuming fuel during practice as well as historical data from past races to try and predict how a given race may play out," said Gantner.

While this may sound like a fairly simple task, it is far from easy. There is no way to successfully predict how a race will play out - there may be fourteen caution flags for 120 laps or there may be two caution flags for sixteen laps in a given race. There are countless variables that make calculating fuel strategy a tremendous challenge that Gantner and White continuously have to update and revise their fuel calculations throughout a particular event.

"Tim Cindric is always looking for information," White says. "During the race, he'll ask for different scenarios - 'How can we make this a two pit stop race instead of a three? If there is a yellow flag in the next ten laps that lasts for eight laps, how many laps can we go on this tank of fuel?' There is no way to predict how a race will run its course, so we have to constantly be prepared for various scenarios."

On top of all that, Gantner and White have to make sure every piece of electronic equipment in the pits is working throughout the day; from the telemetry on the car to the radios to the TV's in the pits.

An electronic engineer's worst nightmare is if the telemetry malfunctions during a race. "In St. Louis last year, Helio's telemetry shut down completely. He said 'Tim, I don't have anything on my dash.' I can still see myself running down pit road before the race trying to get to the car to see if I could fix it. I was hoping the steering wheel was not plugged in or something else that would be simple to repair. Unfortunately, that was not the case - the telemetry was out the entire race and we had to do things the old fashioned way. I was able to make an excel program to calculate the fuel strategy for the race and we were also able to get some information from Gil [de Ferran] as to what his fuel consumption was like. Fortunately, we ended up winning the race, or I don't know what would've happened," White joked.

Once the Team returns to the race shop in Reading, PA the electronic engineers spend the next few days downloading the data acquired and consulting with the race engineers. In addition, they make repairs to any equipment that needs to be fixed such as radios and sensors. In the days leading up to the next race, they make sure that everything is running properly and that the sensors are calibrated correctly for that weekend's event.

So, how does one become an electronics engineer for an IndyCar team? Chris Gantner got his Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1987 and then went to work for Delphi/Delco Automotive where he designed and tested passenger cars. In 1996, he worked at Ilmor Mercedes where he did track support for Marlboro Team Penske that season. In 1997, Team Manager, Tom Wurtz called Gantner and "the rest is history as they say," he explains.

Tim White graduated with an Associate's degree from ITT Technical Institute in 1983 and then went to work as a computer technician for various companies. In 1987, White took a job with Delphi/Delco Automotive in Southern California and in 1992, he transferred to Delphi's Kokomo, IN branch. He would work there for the next ten years during which time he earned his Bachelor's degree in Electronic Engineering Technology from ITT Technical Institute. During this time, White also met Chris Gantner, who would eventually recommend Tim to Marlboro Team Penske in July of 2002.

CASTRONEVES BECOMES HONORARY SMILE AMBASSADOR

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves has recently been named an Honorary Smile Ambassador for the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation. As part of his job Castroneves will spread smiles and good cheer in his community. The foundation's goal is to assist those with ideas and projects that will directly and positively affect the lives of children. Other Ambassadors include Darrell Waltrip, Ed McMahon, Jerry Stiller and the Harlem Globetrotters.

BUDDY RICE WINS MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE LAP LEADER AWARD

Rahal-Letterman Racing driver Buddy Rice led the most laps last weekend for the second time this season after being at the top of the leader board eight times for a total of 83 of the 200 laps run on his way to winning the Argent Mortgage Indy 300. Rice earned three extra points for leading the most laps and sits in third place in the IRL Championship point standings with 225 points. Rice will be presented with his Marlboro Lap Leader Award check for $7,500 during the pre-race ceremonies at the Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway on July 17th.

In addition, Nikki Chanda of Speed Channel was the winner of the Marlboro Lap Leader Award Media Contest. During each IRL event, journalists have the opportunity to enter an on-site contest to predict who will lead the most laps, and how many that driver will lead, in a given race. Chanda, who guessed that Rice would lead 75 of the scheduled 200 laps in the race, won a MOMO Design Essenziale Watch.

-mtp-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Helio Castroneves , Buddy Rice , Sam Hornis
Teams Team Penske