IT Department Helps Team Penske At The Track

July 20, 2020

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With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many things have changed and become the “new normal.” Since the return to racing at the track, face coverings worn by all the competitors in the garage and on pit lane have become the norm, along with restricted access to essential personnel only and increased health and safety protocols.  

How does Team Penske maintain its competitive edge on track among the challenges of a global pandemic?

The Team Penske Information Technology (IT) department has certainly helped make it a smoother adjustment for the race teams as they have developed new and creative ways to assist and refine on-track competition.

David Perry is Team Penske’s lead track IT Technician. As part of his responsibilities, Perry ensures that data at the track reaches the team’s headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. in real time. This allows engineers working in various “situation rooms” to relay the same information to the crew chiefs that they previously shared in person while everyone was sitting together in the team’s pit box.

“At Team Penske we started working on more efficient ways to work remotely with our engineering group last season,” said Perry. “We knew we were going to have some roster restrictions and we were likely going to be leaving our vehicle dynamics engineers at the shop when 2020 rolled around, so in some ways, we were ahead of this situation. We experimented at various race tracks last year with a lot of the real time communication tools and so forth to get our hands around what that task was going to be. Obviously, when the COVID-19 situation happened and the subsequent return to racing, the task was magnified even more.”

As NASCAR returned to racing with protocols to minimize personnel at the track while working with state and local governments across the country, the Team Penske IT department essentially found themselves with double the amount of engineers working remotely that they’d anticipated and started the season with in 2020.

“Leaving the (vehicle dynamic engineers) at home was something we were prepared for. Then when the crew chief’s right hand person in the race engineer was staying home back at the shop, we had to be perfect, or as close to perfect as possible. Failure wasn’t an option,” said Perry.

Race engineers help the crew chiefs follow strategies while keeping up with changing scenarios to adjust their own team’s plan of attack during races.

Live track feeds are just one of the services available to the engineers that are working from the Team Penske situation rooms back in Mooresville, according to Perry.

“One of the first things we had to do for the group at the shop was setting up the live track feed to get to them,” said Perry. “Regular cable or satellite television is too delayed for it to be effective. We’re sending them the same TV feed at the same time the crew at the track is seeing it on the pit box.

“The next steps were ensuring that the engineers could communicate in real time on the team’s intercom system, similar to the open-line private chat they were used to having on top of the pit box at the track. Then the focused turned to giving the engineers the ability to communicate on team radios at the track. Very few of the crew members are on the team intercom, but if there ever is a situation where they need to, our race engineers have the capability to communicate on the team analog and digital channels immediately.”

The Team Penske engineers also rely on surface-mount technology (SMT) data of their specific car to compare what the driver is communicating about the performance to the measurable data on screen, as well as information from other drivers the team is competing against on track. Engineers also monitor the competition as they evaluate the opposition’s strategy and some information may be conveyed to the driver so they can react on track if they know a specific car is struggling in a certain area.

While Team Penske’s NASCAR teams continue to manage the new challenges working with the available programs, Perry said the team’s latest challenge came during the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at Iowa Speedway this past weekend.

Team Penske President Tim Cindric is the race strategist for the defending INDYCAR Champion No. 1 team and driver Josef Newgarden. Cindric also serves as strategist on the No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.

While he was at Iowa Speedway, Cindric remotely called the strategy for the IMSA race at Sebring International Raceway in Florida Saturday afternoon, before he transitioned to the No. 1 Chevrolet that evening for the second INDYCAR race of the weekend, which was won by Newgarden and the team.

“We effectively had Tim in two places at one-time,” said Perry. “This is really the first time the races have fallen that close together where he can call strategy for both events, but he wasn’t able to be physically present for both races. It’s exciting and nerve-racking all at the same time.”

In addition to assisting the teams with competition at the track, Team Penske supports over 500 employees, both at the team’s headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. and various remote locations around the country, as well as Australia.

“Effort Equals Results is a motto that our company lives by,” said Mark Stewart, Team Penske’s Director of Information Technology. “In the IT department, we pride ourselves in going the extra mile and providing our team members with all the tools they need to do their job the most effective and efficient way to drive results on and off the race track. Fortunately, we were already planning and developing ways we could have a select number of engineers working from the race shop going into 2020.  When the pandemic hit, I feel like we were ahead of some of the other teams in that regard. Following Roger Penske’s lead, when a disaster strikes, you can sit back and watch or you can see it as an opportunity to rise.  For our IT department, I feel like we’ve capitalized on an opportunity and we are finding new ways to help our team succeed and grow.”

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