Pit Stops Can Be Key

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For the drivers chasing the 2007 IndyCar Series title, the upcoming road/street course races at Infineon Raceway and the Raceway at Belle Isle could be the key to winning the championship.

Qualifying and running up front during the race can be critical for a driver trying to score maximum points. But if they are behind their rivals, pit stops are the prime opportunities for gaining extra positions.

A pit stop is never as easy as it looks. For six-and-a-half seconds (if all goes well), the drivers' chances in the race are in the hands of their pit crew.

"In six-and-a-half seconds, a lot goes through your mind," said Todd DeNeve, the fueler for Scott Dixon's No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda-powered Dallara. "You think about a lot more stuff than you imagine you would in six-and-a-half seconds. A lot of things are happening. It's almost like you're in slow motion. You think it's been a long stop and then look at the stopwatch on the fuel tank and it was only six seconds."

Getting on and off pit road quickly in the laps before and after a stop also can help a driver pass a rival who may be difficult to pass on a road/street course. Scott Dixon used this formula to get the lead during the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio earlier this year. Here's the chronology of how Dixon took the lead en route to his third-straight win.

Lap 69 - Leader Castroneves enters the pits. Dixon and Franchitti stay out.
Pos. Driver
Behind
Lap Time
 
1 Helio Castroneves
--
1:12.3141
 
2 Scott Dixon
0.5633
1:09.0616
 
3 Dario Franchitti
1.9782
1:08.5508
 
Lap 70 - Dixon inherits the lead and heads for the pits on his in-lap. Castroneves has a very slow out lap.
Pos. Driver
Behind
Lap Time
 
1 Scott Dixon
--
1:12.3274
 
2 Dario Franchitti
1.1893
1:08.8360
 
3 Helio Castroneves
2.6892
1:25.4422
 
Lap 71 – Franchitti stays out inheriting the lead. Dixon exits pits ahead of Castroneves with an out lap more than three seconds faster than Castroneves.
Pos. Driver
Behind
Lap Time
 
1 Dario Franchitti
--
1:09.1445
 
2 Scott Dixon
1.9936
1:22.5001
 
3 Helio Castroneves
17.7936
1:09.0226
 
Lap 72 –Franchitti is slowed due to traffic. Dixon is chasing with clear track.
Pos. Driver
Behind
Lap Time
 
1 Dario Franchitti
--
1:09.2347
 
2 Scott Dixon
15.2590
1:08.4017
 
Lap 75 – After leading three laps, Franchitti heads for pits (in-lap).
Pos. Driver
Behind
Lap Time
 
1 Dario Franchitti
--
1:12.2427
 
2 Scott Dixon
16.1904
1:08.5541
 
Lap 76 – Dixon makes up much of the gap to the leader with a fast lap and beats Franchitti to Turn 1.
Pos. Driver
Behind
Lap Time
 
1 Dario Franchitti
--
1:22.9303
 
2 Scott Dixon
12.1999
1:08.2522
 
Lap 77 – Dixon takes the lead of the race.
Pos. Driver
Behind
Lap Time
 
1 Scott Dixon
--
1:08.2552
 
2 Dario Franchitti
2.4752
1:08.6287
 


Being part of the pit crew is one of the most exciting parts of a race team. It is also potentially one of the most hazardous, yet few would swap their job in the pit lane for anything else.

Following are some comments from some of the key players in an IndyCar Series pit stop about their duties, and how they help their driver get up front.

SCOTT DIXON (Driver, No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Dallara/Honda/ Firestone)
"You're thinking about the pit stop well before you hear that you will be pitting. Before the second stop at Mid-Ohio, we knew our car was quicker than (Helio) Castroneves, but we couldn't get by him, so we decided that we should save fuel early in the stint. Just by saving fuel, we were trying to go that one lap longer we needed.

"During an in lap you're trying to go as hard as you can. You make sure you're using full-rich fuel and trying to put together the best lap that you can while gaining as much time as you can. We emphasize that. You also are looking ahead and making sure you have the space going into pit road. You also have to make sure you don't speed because that's a bigger penalty than anything you'd lose in the pits.

"As you approach your pit, you're trying to get clear vision and see that the (crew) guys have given the most room so that you can to get into the stall cleanly. You're trying to be smooth and not overshoot, but you don't want to be short because that seems to throw off the crew and takes more time. A lot of things are going through your head when you're trying to hit your marks.

"Through the whole pit process I'm looking at the two front tire changers. You can see them clearly. You can feel the changes and you can notice when things seem to be out of whack. I'm trying to pull first gear as late as I can so that I don't upset the rear tire changers. I try to leave that for as late as possible and focus on (crew chief) Ricky (Davis) to tell me to go.

"I think the out lap is harder than an in lap. The tire grip is hard to judge and can be where you can gain a lot of time. I love out laps. That's where we gain time on others. It's a lot of fun. You're again just trying to piece together the quickest lap and not give a lot of track position."

JOHN ANDERSON (Race strategist, Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone driven by Dario Franchitti)
"When to pit on a road course is the big decision to make. If it works in your favor, you look like a hero and you look like a bozo when goes it wrong. You basically don't want to get caught by a yellow. You also don't want to be the first one in because if you can go a lap longer than the next guy, you may be able to get around him. The big thing is when the pit stops start, there can be yellows because guys trying to go too quick on cold tires. If you're about to pit and the yellow comes, you're stuck out there. Guys who are through with their stops come to the front and you join the queue behind them.

"There's no hard and fast rule to pitting. There are certain things you can do, you just have to see how the race develops and pick which strategy you're going to use. Saving fuel is great if you can't pass. If you save fuel, you can go further than the guy or if he comes in at same time, you can put in less fuel and get a quicker pit stop."

DAVE SHARPLEY (Outside front tire changer, No. 27 Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone driven by Dario Franchitti)
"After Ando (race strategist John Anderson) says we're pitting, you're going through some checks in your mind and make sure your equipment is right. I'm making sure my (air) gun is right. I have my spare nut on my belt and have the right tire. It's time for getting yourself focused, and I'm trying to figure out where Dario (Franchitti) is and whose cars are in front or behind us coming in by looking at the pylon or watching him on the track.

"When he comes in, the spotter tells me, 'Dave, he's the second car in line,' or 'He's behind so and so.' I'm still trying to find out where he's at and trying to be as visual for him as I can be to make sure he sees me. He has to know where I'm at as well.

"From there it's a pretty standard procedure. It's the same procedure that we've trained long and hard for all year long. It's a standard tire change. That's the clockwork of the pit stop. It's a routine -- nut off, tire off, tire on, nut on. That's the routine. That's the easier part of the pit stop for me. It's so practiced and so routine.

"From there I'm the driver's key to leave. That's the adrenaline part of the pit stop. I'm holding him and waiting for everyone to be done and making sure all the fuel is in. At the same time, you have to have your eyes up pit lane and not send him out when there's someone coming in or leaving.

"I think that's the most important part of my job. I need to make sure everyone is clear of the stall and make sure that if people are coming out of pit lane that I am not sending the car out into it, or sending the driver out with the fuel hose plugged in. You don't have to worry as much if you're first in line, like we've been lately. If there's someone coming and he's two boxes behind, Dario's going. I'm sending him and he's on his own. He's using Ando and he's using his own mirrors to get back out on the track."

NICK FORD: (Outside rear tire changer, No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone driven by Tony Kanaan)
"What I'm thinking when TK (Tony Kanaan) pits depends on what we have going on. Is it a regular pit stop? Are we under caution? Where are we on the track? Can we make up spots or maintain? If it's a backwards stop like Detroit, I may think about it a little more. I just try to get ready and do my visualizations and get ready and do the pit stop.

"My job entails a little more than everyone else. It's nothing too elaborate, but it can be crucial to the stop. It all starts as TK's pulling into the pits because I've got to run around the car. My cue is to start earlier than everyone else and get timing right to be around the car as he comes in. I run around the car and get my gun on the hub by the time the car is up in the air. I'm the last guy to get there, and by that time I don't have to worry about the car coming up.

"I don't want to pull the gun early and drop the (wheel) nut. I switch my gun on the way down, so I don't have think about if I've switched it or not. I pull off the old tire and pick up new one. It's a whole process. Hopefully, the old tire doesn't bounce so I can throw the new one up right away. I make sure the gun is on the hub and tighten the nut. I need to make sure it's tight, and I have to get up and get the right front tire from my crew chief and get both his tire and my tire out of the way as well and hopefully, we've made up some spots."

TODD DeNEVE (Fueler, No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/ Firestone, driven by Scott Dixon)
"When I hear we're going to pit, I start going through my mental checklist. I'm the fueler, so I check the pressure to fuel probe. I make sure the fuel valve has pressure. I check the deadman valve and just check everything. I'm also in charge of the pit box, so I make sure everyone has the right tire and they have air pressure for the guns and get ready to go over the wall.

"I always visualize the pit stop before it happens. We do a lot of practice in the off-season. We do 20 consecutive stops. I visualize that, and that keeps me from getting nervous. I just reflect on all the successful stops. There are a lot of people watching you, especially on the fuel-only stops.

"I look down pit lane until I see our car. Once I spot it, I don't take my eyes off it. I make sure my feet are on my marks and I watch the car until see the buckeye. I focus on the buckeye and try to get plugged in. Once I'm in, I make sure the valve is open. I watch the vent and wait until it's full, or if it's a timed stop, we have a light on the vent and I watch for that. I pull out as quick as I can and try to stay away from a car and hope we beat cars on pit lane, which we've done a lot this year.

"Of course, sometimes the fuel takes longer than tires and when they drop the car, the driver has full throttle waiting to drop the clutch. Sometimes the clutch moves a little. You're thinking, 'I hope he doesn't dump the clutch.' It's happened to me before, but I don't dwell on it. When the car hits the ground, I have a lot of faith in (crew chief) Ricky (Davis) that he won't send the car until he sees the bottom of my probe. You have to have a lot of faith in the driver and outside front guy that he won't send it early. If you worry, you'll end up with a problem."

Race Center

Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
TV Start:
NBCSN

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