The RACER Mailbag, January 12

The RACER Mailbag, January 12

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, January 12

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Q: Who determines what the liveries will look like on an IndyCar, and why don’t more teams do something fun? Even if the sponsor says it has to be these colors and have the logo a certain way, why not get fun or creative? Some of these schemes are just downright boring. I realize the cars are zooming by so simple is good but I imagine they are trying harder to get the eyes on TV versus the track so we can see the cars quite clearly. Is there some kind of cost issue or just not enough concern over this? I feel like the teams who do this catch eyes and am surprised other sponsors aren’t thinking, yeah that could be good to get more people looking at our logo!

Second part: Are F1 teams required to have matching liveries? If so, why? And are the driver helmet paint schemes controlled by the team to some degree? I miss the classic, iconic style helmets versus the ones full of sponsorship. I get it (financially), just don’t like it.


MP: Teams are free to do as they please as long as the correct series stickers are in position and there’s nothing crazy being promoted. So, that means each choice is up to the team and the sponsor of that car, and to be honest, few sponsors say, “Let’s do something fun!” Most say, “Let’s do something that fits this year’s marketing campaign!”

It makes me appreciate what Arrow McLaren SP did last season with Felix Rosenqvist’s car on a few occasions where the team and its sponsor did a design challenge and chose a few that really stood out. Conor Daly’s pastel “Miami Vice” colors and sponsor slogan at the first Indy road course race last year was all kinds of awesome. But, and here’s the un-fun part: Most sponsors just want the car to have recognizable logos that can be easily seen and recognized on TV. The playful liveries are, sadly, a rarity.

We couldn’t get the second part of the question to Chris Medland before the Mailbag went to press, so you’re stuck with editor Mark Glendenning: The FIA mandates that F1 teams run identical liveries across their two cars, save for minor details such as flags for driver nationalities. BAR caught the wrong end of this at the launch for its debut season in 1999 when it had one car in Lucky Strike colors, and the other in a 555 scheme. The cars never even made it onto the track before the FIA stomped on the idea, and the team’s compromise resulted in the most unusual F1 livery of the past 25 years.

The look of the 1999 “split livery” BAR has not been improved by the passage of time. Charles Coates/Motorsport Images

Q: Could you please give us the job descriptions of the various positions on an IndyCar team?  I’m not quite sure of the different roles played by the crew chief, race engineer, car chief (which may be a NASCAR-only position), etc. 

Rick in Lisle, IL


Q: What are the various roles of a single team and how do they operate during a race weekend?

Cook family, MI

MP: Two birds, one stone on this one, Rick and the Cook family.

Every team goes about constructing its organizational chart in unique ways, so the staff for Car No. 1 at Team A will be different than Car No. 2 at Team B. With that being said, here’s a general overview:

• Team owner: Run the business in part or in whole, search for drivers and sponsors, make key hiring decisions. Could also play a role on the timing stand calling race strategy.

• Team manager/managing director/team president: Run the business in part or in whole, run the day-to-day aspect of the racing team, hire and fire most employees, oversee the other non-competition departments like marketing and PR, finance, HR, business development, hospitality, etc. Likely plays a role on the timing stand calling race strategy.

• Team manager: In teams where a president or managing director is installed, they’re akin, in government parlance, to the vice president working directly below the team owner(s), who are like the president. In those teams, the managing director/team president can be a bit removed from the day-to-day side of what’s taking place on the shop floor, and in those instances, it’s not uncommon for a team manager or two to be found in the bigger teams who are do manage the cars, spares, schedules, crew, and just about every aspect of running the entry or entries.

• Crew chief/chief mechanic: Every team goes with one title or the other, based on preference. The “chief” is in charge of all aspects of car prep and its crew, reports directly to the team manager. Often plays a role during pit stops by going over the wall to change the outside tire, but it’s not always the case.

• Mechanics: Also a team-specific thing on how specialized they like to go on the org chart. Common to have a front-end and rear-end mechanic, but it’s also possible to have mechanics dedicated to each of the four corners. One will often be a gearbox specialist who performs all gear changes. Many, but not all, will perform chassis setups, and almost all will go over the wall to do pit stops.

• Technical director: The head coach of the team’s engineering group. Oversees the engineering staff in many instances, and is responsible for testing plans, engineering R&D plans, budgeting for those R&D expeditions, etc. Big-picture thinker who is ultimately responsible for a team’s competitiveness. Also tends to move among multiple cars at events to help with decision-making, if necessary.

• Race engineer: Responsible for working directly with the driver and developing chassis setups and making chassis tuning calls during the race. Also works directly with a number of support engineers, and the crew chief, who receives the setup info, applies it to the car with their crew, and reports back with setdown info after measuring the car’s settings once it finishes a session or race.

• Assistant engineer/data engineer: Once referred to as the “DAG” (data acquisition geek), this person works directly with the race engineer, looks after all of the electronic systems on the car, often monitors telemetry and fuel strategy and feeds key info to the race engineer, takes care of the entry’s general computer and It needs, possibly the radios as well, and can assist during pit stops on the cold side of pit lane by opening the refueling valve on the big tank, etc. The role frequently comes with oversight and execution of the team’s computer simulation program, which is used to model virtual chassis setup changes before they are tried at a test or during a race weekend.

• Performance engineer: Person who is tasked with taking driver and vehicle performance data and finding areas of strength and weakness to focus on. The role continues to evolve, and in some cases, performance engineers might be asked to look at all aspects of team performance — pit stops, intra-team communication, decision-making processes, race strategy calls, etc. — to find where improvements can be made.

• Truck driver: Another role that varies considerably from team to team. General helper, person in charge of tires, person who maintains the transporter between and during events, and the workspace under the tent. Could retrieve food for the crew, refuel the car during pit stops, serve as the spotter, or one of 50 other things. (Trust me, while a team’s truck driver(s) might not sound like an overly important position when compared to the more glamorous roles, a good truckie can make a world of difference to whether the team runs smoothly and the crew are kept in good spirits. If there’s an unsung crew member who also acts as the glue that keeps the team together, this is usually the person.)

• Public relations: Often writes the press releases and handles the team’s social media, but not always. Manages the driver(s) schedule at the events, often accompanies them for interviews and appearances, handles interview requests from the media. Sometimes serves as a semi-personal assistant the driver(s), but that’s almost a thing of the past.

OK, that’s a fairly straightforward look into your average IndyCar team’s composition. We could go deeper, but that can wait for a future Mailbag question.