CHAMPCAR/CART: Carrying the Load to Japan

Carrying the Load - By Anne Proffitt The logistics of traveling to Japan this week are difficult enough for the majority of teams in combat to win the FedEx Championship Series. For Team Gordon, the baby of the bunch, life becomes even...

Carrying the Load - By Anne Proffitt The logistics of traveling to Japan this week are difficult enough for the majority of teams in combat to win the FedEx Championship Series. For Team Gordon, the baby of the bunch, life becomes even more complicated.

This group formed and began its operations just after Christmas, entering the series using a Swift chassis, Toyota engines and Firestone tires. After missing spring training due to the late start, Team Gordon found the Swift not to its liking -- as did Patrick Racing -- and scrambled to purchase 1998 Reynards for the first races of the season.

It was lucky enough to purchase a Reynard from Dan Gurney's All American Racers that was set up for Toyota power, and it found a chassis available from Team Rahal. Unfortunately, this Reynard originally held a Ford Cosworth engine, necessitating a conversion kit from the chassis maker.

"We got the last casting in the world," boasts team manager Laurie Gerrish. "We picked it up Monday, March 29, at Los Angeles Airport, and we're busy assembling it for duty at Long Beach. Not only is the conversion kit expensive, but we have had to run around the countryside finding bits for the Reynard."

Each team gets free passage for two chassis and 8360 pounds of equipment on the planes departing from Indianapolis for Japan. Beyond that, it's $4.85 per pound for bits headed to Motegi for the second race in this 20-date series.

Team Gordon ran its ex-AAR Reynard at Homestead and experienced oil pressure problems, finishing 112 of 150 laps. The team is taking that car to Motegi, along with the Swift they never unloaded in Florida. After the cross-country trip home to Orange, Calif., Team Gordon did the "normal strip and rebuild, with a new engine, new gearbox, new ratios, new springs and new shocks fitted. We crack-checked everything on the car and put it back together again," says Gerrish.

"With two chassis, you need more equipment. The first priority is to decide what you can't live without," he explains. "We strip it down to a bare minimum and treat this trip as a seven-day test. It's actually quite easy to make the decision of what to take and what to leave at home. You have to think about what you need if you crash. Reynard and Swift will be taking spares to the track, so you call them up and find out what's on their manifest before you leave.

"There's a lot of gears we leave behind. We'll take special tools to rebuild the gearbox, just in case. Normally, we take about 100 different gear ratios on the truck. As the weight of each gear is about two pounds, we'll probably take about 15 gear ratios to cover ourselves. We might change fourth, fifth or sixth gears."

Toyota Racing Development, or TRD, is shipping two engines to Indianapolis for Team Gordon to put on its manifest toward that 8360-pound limit.

As most teams competing in the Champ Car wars are situated near Indianapolis, the deadline for transport to Motegi is a bit easier. But for Team Gordon, it's a thrash. According to transportation chief Kaspar Fellmann, "We're just a week behind the rest of the teams. If you're behind, you're behind. To catch up, it takes a whole year."

It's a compact crew at Team Gordon, only 31 members "from the janitor on up," says Gerrish. Both Gerrish and Fellmann prefer working in a small operation. "It's more of a family; we have more connection with the other team members."

The road crew numbers 16. Most have been spending 14 -- or more -- hours a day at the shop since the winter holidays, a schedule that won't change until November. Now this bleary-eyed "family" is busy preparing 10 large cases and two racecars for truck transport to Indianapolis and the long flight to Tokyo Narita Airport.

"You don't rush when you're packing up for this kind of trip," allows Fellmann. "You take it nice and slow, and you label everything, so you know just where it is. We do it methodically, at a comfortable speed."

In fact, less than half a day before the 10 p.m. loading deadline for the early Wednesday departure for both trucks, no one looks hurried. Ron and Rick, two over-the-road big-rig owner/operators hired by Team Gordon to accompany Fellmann and regular driver Eric Heusinger, are sleeping in preparation for the 32-hour drive to the center of the country. Gerrish will fly in on Thursday to supervise the loading of the team's gear.

While Team Gordon was expected in Indianapolis on Wednesday for loading, their absolute deadline is Friday April 2.

"Sorry, Dennis [Swan], we'll be a bit late," chuckles Gerrish as he surveys the quiet and intense work of his team. "We'll be there for the final load, and then we'll be back here on Sunday, April 11, to do another three-day thrash for the 25th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach."

He continued, "If you have all the pieces in place, it's a tough enough challenge getting from race to race, but with a brand-new team, it's quite amazing what we've achieved in the last three months." Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dan Gurney
Teams Toyota Racing