A "tripartite" relationship built on mutual trust Driver, race engineer and chief mechanic are a core unit Without a team that works together well even the best racing driver could not successfully finish a race. Whether in Formula 1 or ...
A "tripartite" relationship built on mutual trust
Driver, race engineer and chief mechanic are a core unit
Without a team that works together well even the best racing driver could not successfully finish a race. Whether in Formula 1 or DTM racing, the driver, race engineer and chief mechanic form a core unit. Pillars of this threesome's successful interaction are the driver's accurate feedback on the car's performance, the engineer's pinpointed analysis and development of necessary actions as well as their speedy and reliable implementation by the chief mechanic and his crew. Especially on a redesigned, and thus new, circuit like the Nuerburgring, where the seventh DTM race of the season will be staged at the upcoming weekend, an experienced, smoothly operating team is crucial for achieving an optimal vehicle set-up under the time constraints of practice sessions.
In addition to experience, speed and reliability, a tremendous level of mutual trust is a prerequisite for success. "Team work is absolutely essential. Everyone has to be able to count on everyone else a thousand percent," says Opel works driver Manuel Reuter.
The art of interpretation
Whenever the drivers return to the pit during practice sessions, they describe their impressions to the engineers, often using their hands and feet to illustrate the point. In which corner does the car understeer, where does it oversteer, and how does it handle bumps -- the more precise this description the better. "The engineer has to interpret this information, drawing the proper conclusions regarding any necessary changes to the vehicle set-up," says Giorgio Stirano, the Opel Euroteam engineer working on Yves Olivier's Astra V8 Coupé. "This also means that you have to decide whether driver concerns like a brake-turn-in-understeer present a real problem or whether the driver could live with the situation," says Jürgen Jungklaus, the vehicle engineer supporting Joachim Winkelhock (Opel Team Phoenix). Additional information on areas with room for improvement can be gleaned from data logs. "I will discuss my proposed solution with the driver," comments Mario Tolentino, Alain Menu's (Opel Euroteam) engineer. The final decision is not necessarily taken by the engineer.
The car must "work" at any time
Once a measure to optimise the set-up has been worked out, it is up to the mechanics to perform such jobs as exchanging the suspension springs, readjusting the wheel alignment or modifying the anti-roll bars - all in addition to routine jobs like changing tyres, refuelling and cleaning the vehicle, etc. Once the practice session or the race has started, the mechanics are working "against the clock", as every second counts. The rest of the time, the crew usually avoid "clockwatching" since night shifts are anything but unusual.
"The chief mechanic assigns the jobs to his crew independently, having to guarantee a car that "works" at any time," says Reuter's engineer Johannes Gruber (Opel Team Phoenix). Martijn Meijs, Timo Scheider's (Opel Team Holzer) DTM-Astra engineer, adds: "Discipline is important. When changing the springs for the fifth time during a single day, the mechanic must refrain from starting any discussions with the driver."
The chief mechanic is by no means an individual who merely carries out instructions. Like the engineer, his job involves a high level of responsibility. Even a single loose bolt can have disastrous consequences. Moreover, it is important for mechanics to provide feedback to the engineers. As Sam Deljevic, Michael Bartels' (Opel Team Holzer) chief mechanic explains: "Whenever we discover any particular phenomena or concerns, we report these to the engineers so that they can be discussed in the engineers' meeting, thus being passed on to the design engineers as well." Now and then, a mechanic's idea will also find its way into the design process.
Prior to practice sessions or races, the engineer and the chief mechanic will discuss a plan to properly prepare for the session. Even whilst the 462-hp V8 Coupé is doing its laps on the circuit, every crew member is fully aware of what is going on because the engineer maintains constant radio contact with both the driver and the crew. This enables the mechanics to put the necessary parts and tools in place as soon as the car enters the pit lane. "To avoid mistakes, certain jobs are always assigned to the same individual, although, generally speaking, all crew members are flexible enough to perform any job," says Winkelhock's chief mechanic Frank Lynn.
Helping to write motorsport history
Besides the Opel DTM drivers, Michael Bartels, Alain Menu, Yves Olivier, Manuel Reuter, Timo Scheider and Joachim Winkelhock, the engineers and chief mechanics of Opel teams Holzer, Phoenix and Euroteam have helped to write motor racing history -- each of them in their own special way. Menu's engineer Mario Tolentino (53), for example, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, used to be chief designer of the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 chassis as well as working for the Scuderia Italia, Lamborghini and AGS Formula 1 racing teams and gaining touring car experience with BMW and Honda. Olivier's engineer Giorgio Stirano, who studied avionics in Torino, was working for Alfa Romeo and Osella until starting his own team (Alba) and winning the Group C Junior WC title with his own sports car in 1983 and 1984. In 1992, he designed the Alfa 155 in which Gabriele Tarquini won the British Touring Car Championship in 1994. Another example is Jürgen Jungklaus (42), who studied automotive engineering in Cologne, then going on to work for SMS and later for engine specialist Norbert Kreyer. 1995 saw him sign up with the Nuerburgring-based BMW works team as the race engineer for David Brabham, Thierry Tassin and Didier de Radigues.
Ranking among the most experienced chief mechanics are Jörg Baldes and Frank Lynn, both from Adenau and working with Phoenix since 1999. Baldes (33), who takes care of Manuel Reuter's Opel, did his apprenticeship under the guidance of Norbert Kreyer in the engine department of the Zakspeed Formula 1 team, followed by DTM/ITC and STW with BMW, Mercedes and Opel as well as the FIA-GT-WC with Porsche. Winkelhock's chief mechanic Frank Lynn (32) learned his mechanics's trade in a garage, embarking on his "motor racing career" in the 1989 Langstreckenpokal prior to going to work for Mass/Schons-Racing, Zakspeed and Toyota.