Will Anderson’s breakthrough victory as an IndyCar race engineer with James Hinchcliffe at Iowa meant the world to all involved with the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Outside of Anderson’s career milestone, the Canadian’s triumph at the Iowa Corn 300 placed an emphatic period at the end of a turbulent chapter for the team.
Considering all the adversity faced in May with failing to qualify for the Indy 500 and an engineering change from Leena Gade to Anderson, not to mention SPM truck driver Eric Stewart losing his house in a fire late in April, the No. 5 squad was overdue for a big dose of good fortune.
Keeping all of Hinchcliffe’s team members motivated and hungry fell to SPM team manager Taylor Kiel, who oversees the effort from the No. 5 timing stand.
“The big thing for us — and this goes back to the offseason where we made a lot of changes that people know about — was being disciplined and having conviction,” Kiel told RACER. “It wasn’t a matter of if James was going to win, but when. Everything fell the right way for us — he had a great start to the season, Indy was what it was and we didn’t give him what he needed at the time, but Iowa showed that we can give him what he needs.”
Kiel also credited Hinchcliffe for his unwavering support during SPM’s recent hardships.
“It’s easy to lose sight that when a driver’s in a perceived slump, it isn’t always the driver who is missing something,” he added. “It’s a slow pit stop, or a turn one way with a setup change that should have gone the other way, and your day can turn bad pretty quickly.
“I’ve been with James for a long time, seen what he’s had to deal with behind the scenes on engineering changes, crew changes, and all the curveballs he’s been dealt, and he’s just been a superstar outside the car, rolling with the punches and part of what we’re trying to build here. When success came last weekend, it was sweet for him and the whole crew who’ve stuck with the process and culture we’re trying to create.”
Watching Anderson rise from within the team’s engineering ranks to take over Hinchcliffe’s car is another source of pride for Kiel. Making his debut in the lead engineer role with SPM affiliate Meyer Shank Racing at select races starting at St. Petersburg in March, the team knew he was ready to look after Hinchcliffe’s car immediately following Indianapolis.
“We were presented with an opportunity to ease Will in with the MSR opportunity, and we knew he had a lot of talent, so we lent him out to that program and knew he’d get his toes wet, see how he handled it. And with things working out the way they did with the 5 car, we knew we had a guy who could do a great job,” Kiel said.
“We have a very group-oriented way that we do things on the shop floor with the mechanics and with the engineers. Will’s been a great part of that — sees what people are doing in a global way, picks up on it, and applies it. And he had a great rapport with James; the chemistry is certainly there. I’m proud of Will to see how well he’s done early on, but also in the support he’s received from everyone else to get to where he is.”
As one might expect, Anderson was more pleased for his driver and team than himself.
“It’s awesome, obviously,” he said. “I’m so happy for James and the team. It was a rough time after Indy, and I’ve been with James for four years now — the Indy crash, his comeback — and we’ve been through a lot together, so it was awesome to see Victory Lane with him. From a personal level, it’s also really cool. You’re going against some of the best engineers and best drivers out there, and at least at Iowa, our team was the best.”