Vincent’s Vision of Team Preparation, Key to Iowa Doubleheader Success
Throughout eight days in the middle of July, the Arrow McLaren SP team will be contesting four races in eight days consisting of 888 miles of racing action.
With 20% of the NTT INDYCAR® SERIES championship points on the line, performing under the pressure of preparing cars for four races in eight days, falls on the experienced crew of Arrow McLaren SP, led by Competition Director Billy Vincent.
After two days of action at the iconic Road America road course, which included a pole position and podium finish by Pato O’Ward, the crew now faces a quick three-day turnaround to get the No. 5 and No.7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolets into a short-oval configuration.
Included in that job are making minor aerodynamic changes, like removing elements from the wings, to lower downforce and increase speed for the oval.
Mechanically, the job is much more involved and complex, and all tailored to help the car turn left on an oval and includes changing the differential for a spool and switching out many of the suspension pieces.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has helped define how the team works, keeping separate bubbles for shop-based crew and travel crew.
“COVID-19 has made the team separate things differently,” explained Vincent. “All of the people that go to the racetrack are considered one group, and all the non-traveling people are considered another group.”
“What we did yesterday was the trucks were at the shop first thing in the morning, and the non-traveling group that consists of eight crew came in and got the cars stripped down to a certain level for us. They made a list of a few things that needed doing – we had some damage on Oliver’s car from Road America – and they worked from probably 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. accomplishing those tasks.
“We then have a handoff meeting with all the chiefs and all of the pertinent people and say here’s where we got to today, and here’s where you guys should pick up tomorrow.”
“Wednesday and Thursday is the traveling crew working in the shop, so we’ve got our normal four mechanics, the (car) chief, one gearbox guy per car, and a couple of bodywork guys. We will probably be working today until from 7:30 a.m. to about 6 p.m., and then something similar tomorrow. Then we’ll load up.”
The Arrow McLaren SP crew has made the finals of the Carb Day Pit Stop Challenge four years running, including a win by the Bob Jansen led squad of the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP in 2019, so keeping on top of that part of the weekend is also essential. Time is set aside each day for a one-hour workout and pit practice.
The pair of races at Iowa Speedway will be 25th and 26th doubleheader races the team has been a part of since 2013, so the Arrow McLaren SP leadership and Vincent have the routine down pat.
“It is a lot of work,” explained Vincent when asked about getting ready for a doubleheader. “It’s a lot of simple things, like making sure all the meals show up at the right time and being efficient about the day to give them as much time to themselves as we possibly can.
“But realistically, the preparation for this string of four races in eight days started a month ago, knowing that we have this situation in hand. The pre-preparation and being ready for this to happen is the biggest thing.”
“As long as we do not have unforeseen circumstances like a crash, it is well laid out, and assemblies just change off the car rather than rebuilding the whole thing. It is the same thing that goes into doubleheaders in general.”
If one of those unforeseen circumstances does occur, the team will rely on a well-tested process, checklist, and preparation, a lot of preparation.
“You hate to think about it, but you have to think about it,” said Vincent. Okay, what if we crash one car in this session, what do we need to get to that next session? What if we crash two cars?”
“You have to lay all those scenarios out, and how we can be best prepared for that. The guys have a lot of their own ideas and network with the crew chiefs and things to maximize sub-assemblies and create carts.”
“We call them panic carts. Here is everything that is required to change an engine. Here is everything necessary to change a rear end and have it pre-built.”
“You hate when you get the opportunity to prove that you can do it, but you all like to be able to step back and be proud when the processes you have designed work.”
O’Ward’s visit to the second step of the podium is the team’s first in over one calendar year and gives that little bit of extra motivation they need heading to the Iowa Speedway.
“Motivated is a good word,” said Vincent when asked about the impact that O’Ward’s pole and strong race had on the Indianapolis, IN based team. “It’s not to say that we weren’t motivated but gives that little extra oomph.”
“We made quite a few changes over the offseason with new partners, Chevrolet and added two new drivers.”
“Pato’s great run showed the crew that we could go out there and compete against Team Penske and Andretti Autosport. They always talk about the big three. Obviously, Chip Ganassi Racing is doing a great job; hats off to them. But I would like to think that we are in the mix with Penske and Andretti. Pato is in front of most of them in points.”
“It gives us confidence. It gives you the energy to dig even deeper!”
Adding to that confidence is team and driver’s past performance at the .875-mile Midwestern Bullring. The team’s results over the last five years include one win, two podiums, four top-five finishes, and 48 laps led.
Askew and O’Ward have also had success at Iowa Speedway in the Road to Indy. O’Ward has made two trips to Newton, Iowa, winning an Indy Lights race in 2018 and standing on the podium as an Indy Pro 2000 rookie in 2015.
“We’ve got great cars at Iowa and have had some good success there in the past few years,” said Vincent. “So yeah, we’re really excited. Last year at Elkhart, we were okay, but this year we had a really good car. The two races this weekend is the first time we’re going to Iowa Speedway where history shows we’ve always had good cars, so, hopefully, we’re even better.”
Askew, O’Ward, Vincent, and the rest of the Arrow McLaren SP crew will be at Iowa Speedway for the Iowa INDYCAR 250s on Friday and Saturday night. You can watch both races on NBCSN at 8:30 p.m. ET.