CHAMPCAR/CART: van de Sandt interview

As the team coordinator for Team Rahal since 1992, Bill van de Sandt is sometimes referred to as the team's "fireman." In addition to taking care of the various problems and issues that surface during the season, van de Sandt also oversees the ...

As the team coordinator for Team Rahal since 1992, Bill van de Sandt is sometimes referred to as the team's "fireman." In addition to taking care of the various problems and issues that surface during the season, van de Sandt also oversees the team's engine program with Ford-Cosworth, schedules Team Rahal's two race transporters and one test transporter, assists with travel arrangements and performs various other tasks. Van de Sandt discusses the logistical challenges of a full race season, the three consecutive events on the West Coast (the Laguna Seca test and races at Vancouver and Laguna Seca) and what CART could do to make the season easier and more economical for the teams.

BILL VAN DE SANDT -- TEAM COORDINATOR FOR TEAM RAHAL-- "Logistically when we first looked at the schedule at the beginning of the season, I started thinking about how we were going to do all of this (consecutive races at Mid-Ohio and Road America, a week off, the Laguna Seca test and then races at Vancouver and Laguna Seca). From our standpoint it's not two races and then a week off and then three races - it's more like six races in a row. When they throw in the Laguna (Seca) open test it's almost like a race weekend for us. We treat it like one because we feel it's just as important that we have as many of our resources at that test as we possibly can, so in that case we decided to run two cars. We'll be running one of our test cars and one of our backup cars from this weekend (Road America) out there (in the Laguna Seca test). Basically we have one transporter leaving Elkhart Lake on Sunday after the race with our two backup cars in it. One of them (backup cars) will be run at the Laguna Seca test by Kenny (Brack) - he'll run his backup car, and then Max (Papis) will run our test car, which is back at the shop right now. The test transporter will be leaving Monday morning (from the shop in Columbus, OH) with the test car and all the wings and equipment for the St. Louis race, which is the week after the Laguna Seca race.

HOW BIG OF A CHALLENGE IS IT FOR YOU AND THE TEAM TO HAVE CONSECUTIVE RACES ON THE WEST COAST? - "Being on the West Coast is a bit of a challenge, but it's not terrible. It's more of a challenge going to St. Louis after that. It's a challenge going from Laguna (Seca) to Vancouver, then back to Laguna (Seca) and then to St. Louis, (but) it's not like one or two particular races are a challenge, it's the whole thing together."

SPECIFICALLY WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE TEST AND RACES DURING THAT TIME? - "When we go out for the Vancouver race we'll have everything on the West Coast already. Everything we have as far as pit equipment, race cars - we'll have all five of our cars on the West Coast. Going for the championship we thought it was important to make sure that we were completely prepared, so if we had to change cars for any reason we'd have an extra car out there on the West Coast. So, we're taking all three of our transporters for that event. One of our transporters will be going home with the racecars from here (Road America) to be turned around for Vancouver, and then that transporter will be leaving for Vancouver next Sunday. At the same time, the race transporter that is in Laguna (Seca) on Sunday will be heading towards Vancouver and our test transporter will be staying in Laguna (Seca) during that period with a driver in case we need that fifth car and any equipment that is in that truck. Anything that we need from that truck can be in Vancouver in 24 hours should we need it."

WHAT ISSUES MUST YOU ADDRESS IN REGARDS TO GETTING THROUGH CUSTOMS AT THE CANADIAN BORDER? - "CART does a good job of helping us to handle that. They have it set up so we come through the border after a specific time and it's usually pretty painless. As long as we're not trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes or do something illegal, we usually get right through. We do a manifest (on the contents) inside of each transporter before we leave - in fact we already have the manifests done for these transporters to go to Vancouver with the exception of the cars and engines because we don't know which engines are going where exactly. We actually have the manifest done for our test truck that we don't plan on taking to Vancouver, but if we do (need it) all we have to do is fill in a couple of engine numbers and chassis number and the driver is ready to go."

DO YOU IDENTIFY EVERY WRENCH AND SCREWDRIVER? - "We get it pretty close. We don't detail it out to everybody wrench, but we have it pretty detailed. If a customs agent were to ask to see something on the manifest, we could show it to him, no problem."

AND YOU CROSS THE BORDER AT A CERTAIN TIME OF THE DAY? - "Well, we're allowed to go through after a certain time of day just because they're looking for us. We try not to go through before that because the people on that shift are not expecting you and you're probably going to get stopped and questioned, where if we go through afterwards those people are expecting us. We have an agreement with the Canadian government on getting in and doing a professional sporting event and leaving and taking all of our equipment with us. It gets touchy with engines and tires and things like that, but we just make sure that our paperwork is done properly. FedEx does a tremendous job helping us with shipping engines and parts that we need to get in and out of Canada. As long as the paperwork is done properly it usually goes off without a hitch and we don't have any problems."

WHAT HAVE YOU PLANNED IN ORDER TO PREPARE FOR THE RACE IN ST. LOUIS? - "For the St. Louis race, basically it's wings and a lot of gearboxes and suspension (components) that we have to take with us. The way we have our transporters now they're loaded to the brim - we can't fit anything else in them, so we're using our test transporter to take most of that equipment. To turn the cars around in Laguna (Seca) after the race, we're staying on Monday and working on the cars. We'll then send the cars straight to St. Louis while we (the crew) fly home on Monday night before flying to St. Louis on Thursday morning."

WHAT IS APPROXIMATE WEIGHT OF EACH OF YOUR FULLY LOADED TRANSPORTERS? - "The trucks are right at their limit - they're at 80,000 pounds. They've got everything in them - we take them right to the maximum of what we can possibly load on them."

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PLANNING FOR A ONE-CAR TEAM OR A TWO-CAR TEAM? THERE'S NOT MUCH EQUIPMENT THAT IS SHARED IS THERE? - "It's two separate one car teams, for sure. We share some things - we share the engine program, but mostly what we share is back at the race shop. Our paint shop, our carbon shop, our machine shop, we obviously share all of that, and our engine program is shared between the two cars."

BUT IN TERMS OF LOGISTICS YOU MIGHT AS WELL HAVE TWO SEPARATE ONE- CAR TEAMS. - "For logistical reasons you might as well have two one car teams, sure, because you have to be prepared. Each team has to be completely prepared to operate individually (and) totally exclusive from the other team."

HOW FAR IN ADVANCE TO YOU BEGIN PREPARING FOR EACH RACE? - "As soon as we get the schedule. I started planning for 2001 last week. For instance, I'll be taking a trip to England and Germany in November to check out the hotels and transportation that we're going to use for those two events, and basically we're starting right now."

DO YOU ALSO HANDLE THE INDIVIDUAL TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE TEAM MEMBERS? - "We have someone back at the race shop, Debbie Badger, who takes care of all the travel arrangements for us, but I work closely with her. She needs to know when we're going, who's going, and that's where I come in. I liaison with the chief mechanics to find out who needs to go to this test or to that race or whatever. It's up to me to know when everybody is going, where everybody is and to relay that information to her - I'm the person between the team and her. I make sure that she knows where everybody is supposed to be, that everybody is on the right flight, that everybody has a rental car and that everybody a hotel room."

DO YOU HAVE ANYBODY WHO HELPS YOU DURING THE SEASON? - "I do a lot of it alone, but obviously communication is very important. Everybody needs to know what they're doing and what I'm thinking, and certainly I don't just make decisions and say, 'we're doing this.' We discuss things a lot and there's as many ways to do it as there are people doing it, so I work really close with (race team manager) Larry Ellert and (general manager) Scott Roembke on our plans and what is the best plan for the team to get as much value. Whether it's testing, a race or just traveling, you want to get as much value as you possibly can out of each trip."

WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES ONCE THE TEAM IS ON SITE AT THE TRACK FOR THE WEEKEND? - "Once everyone is here, I manage the engine program. We put a plan together before we come on what engines we're going to race, what engines we're going to qualify and practice with, and that changes sometimes minute to minute. I also make sure that any travel plans that need changing as the weekend goes on are communicated to Debbie and our travel people so they know what we're doing. When we're testing, things change minute by minute as well, so I try to keep on top of things and anticipate what's going to happen and make sure that everybody has a ride to the airport and what have you. Many times at the race weekends, the team sometimes refers to me as a 'fireman'- putting out little 'fires' that happen. As team coordinator, there's no real, specific job description. If it needs done, I'll do what I can to get it done, whether it's going to pick up something at the airport that was shipped in, somebody needs a new uniform, whatever it takes to get the job done. All the little things that our managers don't need to really be bothering themselves with (because) they need to be looking at a bigger picture than what I'm looking at. I need to look at the details and make sure that the details get done."

WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES TO THE THREE RACES ON THREE CONSECUTIVE WEEKENDS PRESENT YOU WITH? - "The three (consecutive race) weekends - that's a huge challenge, especially for the engine management program because you're only allowed a certain amount of miles on engines. With three races back to back like that, you have to have qualifying and race engines ready to go for each race and they have to be fresh and up to spec. It's a huge challenge to try and make sure that you give each driver every possible chance he could have to qualify up front. At these races if you don't qualify up front it's really hard to make up any time - you can't pass. Logistically, a thing like getting laundry done sounds small but it's huge. You've got 50 people that each have four uniforms, so that's 200 to 300 items that you need to have cleaned and there's not very many dry cleaners that are equipped to do that. We're lucky to have a good one in Columbus and there's a company that goes on the road with us. They pick stuff up after the race and they deliver it to the next race, so they probably do 90 percent of the races for us."

LOOKING AT THE 2001 SCHEDULE, DOES BEGINNING THE SEASON IN BRAZIL PRESENT YOU WITH ANY PROBLEMS? - "Actually that won't be so bad because we have a month off between races. That shouldn't cause a big problem, (but) that is all contingent on what we do for testing around Rio (de Janiero) with the new testing rules and how they pan out. Having the testing ban during the season will be great because we can plan where as right now we don't know whether we're going to a test or not. You can decide sometimes right after a race weekend that you're going to a test, so that means that you have a week to put everything together. If you start planning now you pretty much know what engines you're going to be using, what trucks are going to go where, when they're going to go and what people are going to go with them six months beforehand."

HOW ARE THE RACETRACKS IN ACCOMODATING THE NEEDS OF THE TEAMS? - "I think the tracks do what they can to help us get our stuff in and out. There's a lot of things they could do. (Providing) clean facilities, helping us out with the fans and people - sometimes it's impossible to get around. For some reason some tracks give fans golf carts to drive around in our paddock and it's incredibly dangerous - someone could get hurt. Helping us get in and out of the racetracks on time would help tremendously. Garages are a big help, giving us space to move the cars around, allowing us to get them down to tech and back and forth to the paddock. Really just more space and more crowd control would help."

OF COURSE SOME RACETRACKS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS. - " Some racetracks are very good about it, some aren't. Behind the pits in some places it's impossible to get around, and if they could control the crowd more it would help us tremendously."

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar