The NTT IndyCar Series has taken stock of its single-day season opener at Texas Motor Speedway and found a few adjustments to apply when the paddock arrives at the next venues on the calendar.
IndyCar’s upcoming July 4 race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and the doubleheaders at Road America and Iowa, will benefit from all the things that worked on June 6, and the items that warranted scrutiny and improvement, according the series president Jay Frye.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the entire paddock and how we executed this plan,” Frye told RACER. “Everybody was part of the plan, part of the process to get it to what we had. It’s that saying of ‘strategy is a commodity, and execution is an art.’ This group executed in a big way, and I came away with five pages of notes of things that we could go back and do better.”
Frye credits the action plan IndyCar devised for TMS, which drew from NASCAR’s existing return-to-racing guidelines, for helping all the participants who descended upon the Dallas-Forth Worth area to successfully hold a rapid-fire event while managing the risks that come with gathering amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The same plan will be pressed into service once the season gains momentum with five races on the calendar in July, and will be open to modification as each round is reviewed by IndyCar’s leadership.
“NASCAR was huge in this whole process,” Frye said. “Obviously, they already launched their return, and we learned a ton from them. Probably 50 percent was very similar. The other 50 percent was different, because we traveled, so we flew, while [NASCAR] is only driving to their races. We practice, qualified, and raced, and their process is a little different with just going racing. But everything went off without a hitch. We ended up with 760 people on the ground total between the paddock, and NBC, and IMS Productions and the Texas Motor Speedway folks.
“We had multiple [coronavirus] screenings, assets were right on the ground, with enough people, enough lines to get through the whole process. You go back through it. There were some things that we looked at with social distancing and some things we would have maybe done a little different, but it did all work as it was supposed to. So that was good.”
As IndyCar prepares for an entire month of racing with single-day events, Frye expects to take the worrisome physical demands placed on teams at Texas, which was amplified by extreme heat, into greater account. Beyond the physical toll, Texas also gave Frye some insight into the possible role of high temperatures wreaking electronic havoc on some of the cars in the field. He says both will be addressed moving forward.
“The biggest stuff that I we learned, and again, part of this is you’re learning for the future, is how can you do one-day shows more often?” he asked. “What would that look like? We’re going to do basically two one-day shows at Road America and two one-day shows at Iowa. So how does what we learned at Texas apply to those events? Road America is obviously a road course. Iowa is another oval, so Iowa will be an impound event. Road America won’t. We learned a lot of things from the impound process and how that could look maybe little different. But even that, there was a cause and effect to everything.
“So we impounded the cars. Well, because we social-distance, and we think we had a really good plan with that, we had a Honda garage and a Chevy garage, so they were split. Which is perfect. But normally we would have only used one of the garages, and when we impounded, we would have put the cars in the other garage so they were in the shade.
“But there was no place to put the cars in the shade. When we put this plan together, we didn’t know it was going to be 120 degrees on the ground or whatever. So there’s things like that we learned. So when we go to Iowa, it’s going to be hot. Just assume that. So when we impound the cars, what are we going to do to make sure they’re in shade? How can we operate differently? So we’ll operate a little differently next time.”
Building longer breaks into the schedule to allow more time for pit crews to rest and recharge is the other key area Frye intends to improve.
“When we impound, the teams can do X, Y; there’s a list of things they can do their cars, and we’ll give them a period of time to do that,” he said. “Then once the time is up, we’ll have where the garage is basically shut down, the cars will be in the garage, and the team members and the crew will have to leave the garage so we can see that the cars are secure, and that no one’s messing with or impeding the impound.
“So there’s little things that we learned that we can do different operationally, procedurally, that can hopefully make it a little better. If it’s hot, we’re all dealing with that. If we do it where they have X amount of time to do the post-qualifying changes, then they can go cool down and get some rest, get ready for the race. Just take care of themselves.”