As well as keeping an eye on their own crew, the chief mechanics are also watching the pit boxes around them to try an anticipate potential problems caused by cars pitting either side of them.
TREVOR LACASSE: You want to know, like, “Hey, it’s going to be real close with (Scott) Dixon in front of you here. He’s going to be coming across you as you’re leaving, so might have to hold (Power).” Had plenty of those over the years where as much as you just want to be done and send him, you’ve just got to pause those extra couple seconds, let them come across and then send him.
A team’s position along pit lane can have a huge impact on this part of the stop.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I’m not even sure IndyCar is aware of this, but your position on pit road has a huge effect on your race weekend, not just your race. For example, we qualified poorly in Portland so we were midway along pit lane (at Laguna Seca), and at Laguna the out-lap is very important to warm up your tires. People do it in different ways — some people go fast, some people go slow; we all have different methods. The problem is, when you need to go fast and other people are going slow, you end up being in a traffic jam and you can’t get your tires ready. If you’re first in pit-out, you don’t have that problem because you dictate the pace.
MARCUS ERICSSON: The biggest thing is if you have an open in. That really makes a big difference in where you can brake into your box. That’s more the luck of the draw, and whether someone else is pitting with you or not.
I always prefer an open in, because it’s easier to stop on my marks, and that makes it easier for the mechanics. On the exit, if you have to go around someone or if you can floor it and go straight… yeah, you have better acceleration. But for me, the biggest thing is to try to maximize the stop. And if I can stop exactly on my marks, that’s a bigger gain than if I have a straight exit.
JOSH JUNGE: I just speak for the outside front position because there’s more responsibility than just changing tire. It’s calling the driver in, it’s watching as the cars come down pit lane to make sure nobody’s going to launch into us. And then at the same time, sending our car out… to be in those first three to four pit boxes makes that job 75 percent easier. Once you get to the middle or the rear of pit lane, that middle section can be extremely dicey. It’s a lot of cars coming out and a lot of cars coming in, and it gets pretty chaotic. So for sure, the first four stalls are very important.
Once the stop is completed, the driver is given the signal to leave the box and rejoin the race.
FELIX ROSENQVIST: You try to launch well, and there’s quite a lot of lap time in that as well, because these cars have such a long first gear. If you bog down a little bit you can lose a lot of lap time getting up to the speed limiter.
Then you get to the pit exit and press the button, and pretty much have the same thing as the in-lap — you have to make the best out of cold tires, and that’s a little bit of a guessing game. There’s always going to be a bit of a slide. It can be a bit rough and wild when the tires are cold, especially on street tracks; big-commitment tracks. So there’s a lot of lap time to be gained there. Those two laps are definitely the most important of the whole race.
SIMON PAGENAUD: The first corner is obviously super-treacherous. There’s always tricks with the anti-roll bars and the brakes that you can do for the first corner, and then you adjust again after that.
MARCUS ERICSSON: In Formula 1 you have tire warmers, so right from Turn 1, the full grip is there. Here in IndyCar, depending on what compound you’re on and what track you’re at, it can take a lap or two laps before you’re up to temperature. Some drivers are really good at hustling the car on cold tires, and some are less good at it. So there’s always a fine line there, which you try and maximize because it’s race time.
Meanwhile back in the pits, the pit crew regroups.
JOSH JUNGE: The camaraderie definitely starts at pit stop practice here in the shop. I think it’s healthy for guys to kind of razz on each other a little bit, but it’s even healthier on the other side of the token for guys to pick each other up. It shouldn’t just be one person’s thinking, “Hey, that other guy, he had a bad day of practice.’ In our particular group, we’ve been very lucky to have some experienced people, so guys can lean on each other a little bit when they know that the guy that’s talking to them has experienced this stuff.
Then when you get into race weekend that’s even heightened. As soon as the stop’s over, the first thing you’ll see is after a pit stop when everybody gets over the wall and gets all their equipment over is, everybody meets either the back of the pit box or the back of the fuel rig, and it’s either patting each other on the back or it’s grabbing some guy’s shoulder and saying, “Hey man, you got it. That one’s OK. We’re still good and lifting each other up.” And that goes a long way, for sure.
TREVOR LACASSE: After the race all the guys are looking for the time sheet to see who was the fastest team in pit lane and that turns into a friendly competition, and that’s always cool. And then the last few years we’ve been pretty fortunate to be able to win the Firestone pit stop award at the end of the season. So that’s some pretty cool bragging rights, for sure.
JOSH JUNGE: Everybody definitely deserves every bit of credit that they get for what they’re doing in the pit stops, because unlike other racing series, the guys that go over the wall in our series are also the mechanics. They’re also the truck drivers. They’re also the bodywork guys, the carbon guys. Everybody plays more than one role than just going over the wall. So to have an aspect of your job that has an instant reward…. In motorsports, we get instant rewards 17 times a year in the race results if you work hard. But then you multiply that over pit stops and the feeling when you are successful… to get that many rewarding moments during the race season is an incredible feeling.
TREVOR LACASSE: This year I bought an Apple Watch, and you’ll have some times during in the middle of a stop that you’ll feel it vibrate because your heart rate’s up. Your heart rate just spikes real quick, so the watch thinks something’s going wrong with you. So after the stop you’ve got to acknowledge that, “Nope, I’m OK!” So yeah, your heart rate definitely has some spikes in there. It’s a pretty big adrenaline rush. Even doing it as long as I’ve done it, it’s still the coolest part of the job.