What happens when you introduce a championship- and Indy 500-winning race engineer to a group of hardcore NTT IndyCar Series engine builders? You see drivers smile and hear them speak of massive drivability gains. They credit those throttle response and engine behavior improvements to a new style of information gathering that’s emerged in recent months which led to Chevrolet’s pole- and race-winning start to the season.
Call it the Ray Gosselin Effect, because the addition of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s longtime Andretti Autosport race engineer to Ilmor Engineering, the company behind Chevy’s 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 IndyCar motors, has been hailed as the big offseason acquisition that’s giving Honda serious headaches.
Gosselin previously worked at Ilmor nearly 20 years ago, but his familiarity with the firm isn’t what’s triggered Chevy’s rise. And on the surface, one might expect his intimate knowledge of Honda’s engine program through his work with Andretti — bearing in mind that he won the 2012 IndyCar title while the team was aligned with Ilmor and Chevy, and the 2014 Indy 500 when Andretti switched to Honda — has been handed to his new employer, but for those who know Gosselin, that’s not how he works.
The real reason behind the victorious drivability improvements comes from his pedigree as a race engineer. Chevy’s turbo IndyCar engines have made big power for many years, but on the road and street courses in particular, Honda’s immense tuning skills have given its teams a small advantage thanks to the way its engine technicians work closely with the drivers to customize the throttle maps.
It’s been the extra effort to do the tiny modifications and alterations to the engine software to tailor the drivability to each Honda pilot that has made enough of a difference to take eight of the 12 road and street course wins last year. Enter Gosselin who, in his former race engineer role, has done nothing but work directly with drivers to customize every aspect of the car’s handling to their needs for the last two decades.
Extracting performance-enhancing feedback from drivers is Gosselin’s specialty, so where can Ilmor’s new VP of Motorsports be found before and after each IndyCar session? Talking to the Team Chevy drivers, learning their wants and needs on the engine front, and routing them to the Ilmor technicians who turn those wishes into software mapping realities.
“I think Ray’s a great addition,” Team Penske’s two-time Chevy-powered champion Josef Newgarden (pictured, top, with Gosselin) told RACER. “I didn’t know Ray very well — said hello to him in passing, but never really spoke to him — and it was nice to be able to chat with him in the offseason and get to know a little bit more about his story and background. He’s a tremendous addition for us.
“It’s really nice to have a race engineer that gets the ins and outs of what a weekend really entails, knows how a team works, knows how a driver and engineer combo works, and I think he brings a lot to that conversation. He bridges that gap a lot better than we’ve had the last couple years. We’ve had tremendous support from Chevy, and it’s not to take away from what we’ve done before, but I think he only adds to the program, and we’re going to try and leverage that as much as we can.”
Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist shares in Newgarden’s enthusiasm for the new driver-first approach that Gosselin’s brought to Chevy’s game.
“I think it’s been great, kind of like a new era of the of the whole program,” said the driver of the No. 7 Chevy. “In the past, I think the drivability side has probably been a little bit of a weakness for us. You can’t have everything in an engine, like more power, more drivability, more torque, more fuel economy, more straight-line speed; there’s always tradeoffs.
“But I think what Ray has managed to do is gather the group of drivers together a bit more and all the teams more so we are able to attack some areas that we know we’re lacking. St. Pete showed that. It’s one of the tracks that you really need good drivability. I haven’t talked to all the drivers on Team Chevy, but it seems like the feedback has been positive. It’s really good so far. Let’s see how it goes in Texas and then in Long Beach to see if we can continue that trend.”
Like Newgarden, Rosenqvist didn’t know Gosselin before he rejoined Ilmor, and from their first interactions, the AMSP driver knew he was speaking to a different creature.
“Yeah, it’s funny to say that, because that was my initial impression — like, ‘This is not an engine guy, right?’” he said with a laugh. “I think that’s the interesting thing. People like Ray that have worked closely with drivers, they have strengths that maybe other types of engineers don’t have because they can understand the language you speak. Then they can communicate that to a person who can actually make a difference with how the engine interacts with you.
“I think he’s just very good at getting the message across to whoever needs to hear it and make a difference that really helps you. Some engineers ignore half of what you say because they can’t relate to what you’re saying, and the best ones can be a bit like a psychologist, getting to know what you’re thinking and why you’re thinking it, and then taking that and turning it into an action that makes things better. I think that’s why Ray has really come and brought a new way of talking to us that’s helping all the Chevy teams get more out of themselves. I’m happy he’s on our side now, for sure.”