The NTT IndyCar Series has asked its teams to prepare for running their cars with fewer trackside support staff once the 2020 season gets under way.
As swift reactions to the coronavirus took hold during the ill-fated St. Petersburg season opener set for March 13-15, IndyCar directed its teams to remove non-essential staff members from the Floridian street circuit, limiting each team’s head count per entry to a total of 25 people.
Although the St. Pete race was quickly canceled after the staffing limit was established, it has served as a guideline for the series’ pending return to action on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.
RACER has learned a further reduction has been made with a new cap number of 20 people per car presented to IndyCar’s teams.
Andretti Autosport, which, with six entries, would have the highest number of cars at Texas and the greatest number of total staff, at a maximum of 120, has been working to refine its travel rosters in concert with the rest of the IndyCar paddock.
“It is challenging, (but) there was a time when 15 was a normal number, so 20 feels like a luxury compared to the days of old,” Andretti COO Rob Edwards told RACER. “Coming up with most of the 20 is a function of necessity, isn’t it? There’s the six crew that go over the wall for tires and fuel and air jack; the aeroscreen attendant; plus your driver, your race engineer, your performance engineer, your systems engineer, and your spotter, so that’s 12 already. Add a couple of truck drivers and it gets you to 14. Where I think you start on some of the efficiencies is with some of the extra support engineers.”
A select number of team have made use of remote engineering support in recent years where an uplink from their transporter in the paddock delivers real-time data to staff at the shop who add layers of analytical help and perform a variety of tasks, including running simulations based on the directions chosen by the engineering leaders. Commonplace in Formula 1, but considered a luxury in IndyCar, Edwards believes remote engineering support could become more widespread as a result of the coronavirus.
“Maybe you leave some of the additional engineers back in the shop,” he said. “I’m sure over the last six weeks, teams have enhanced their remote working tools. I don’t think any of us are at Formula 1-style engineering boardrooms, but we’re more capable now than ever before to connect with our staff who might need to work remotely for however long as we get accustomed to going racing with fewer people present at the track.”
IndyCar has not placed restrictions on how its teams reach the limit of 20 people per entry, which affords some freedoms on how the remaining five or six slots are filled. Many drivers have a personal assistant or physical therapist to include, and it’s not uncommon for a family member or two, and possibly a spouse, to travel with the driver, which could consume most of the entry cap.
Some of the other team roles, from motorhome drivers to hospitality staff, could be kept on the sidelines until the pandemic subsides. IndyCar is considering a twist to the Texas race where it would become a single-day event, making the need to implement some of the extra accommodations, including hospitality compounds, an unnecessary step.
“Obviously, the talk is doing some made-for-TV races without fans, so maybe a lot of the marketing, PR, hospitality, and customer services numbers would not be required for those events,” Edwards added. “We normally have a significant volume of sponsors and partners with us at the races, but a lot of the bigger corporations have travel restrictions.
“So among the various partners you would have once entertained at the track, maybe those slots open up for use as needed among the 20 per car. Everyone is essential, so it’s not really a question there. But you will, now, need to decide who must go to the track and who can perform their tasks connected from afar. It’s very different times we’re adjusting to, that’s for sure.”