Today I’m going to try and capture the feeling of being involved in an Indy Lights test day and give you an insight into how much time, effort and energy is put in to making it successful. The following is a recount consisting of all the test days that I have attended since being in America with Alex. Each track was a unique experience and adds a different dimension to the story so we will start by setting the scene of each track we’ve visited so far.
At the southern tip of Florida, just before you reach the Floridian Keys, is a race track called Homestead-Miami Speedway. There is a short 1.5 mile superspeedway that runs around the outside of a 2.21 mile road course that utilises the back straight.
Palm Beach International Speedway:
Only a 50min drive from our condo in Delray is PBI. This is a very diverse motorsports facility as it has a 2 mile road course, 7/10 mile go kart track and an international level ¼ mile drag strip. It is a relatively short circuit which has long flowing corners and a 165mph back straight into a tight hairpin at the end.
Barber Motorsports Park:
Nestled in the foothills of Leeds, Alabama is one of the most amazing motorsports facilities and historical motorcycles museums I have ever seen. It is a manicured and picturesque racetrack with undulations that make you feel like you are on a roller coaster. It is a fast circuit with high g-force and long straights, originally designed for motorbikes making it quite difficult to pass in an Indy Lights car.
Sebring International Raceway:
Home of the Sebring 12 hour race, tucked away in “yeeha” Florida about 2 and a half hours from us. This was an interesting track as it wasn’t run in its entirety, the lap time was less than a minute and as the Indy cars were running the day before it was very rubbered in.
How a test begins...
Around 5 days out, we all receive an email sharing the details of the test, location, times, flights, hotels and directions. This outline allows me to plan our training up to the test to make sure that Alex is in optimal condition physically to get the most out of the time on track.
Normally if we have had to travel by plane and are staying at a hotel we get up around 7:30am, get a good breakfast of yogurt, granola, honey and fruit. Grab a quick coffee and jump in the rental car and arrive exactly on time, if not 1 min late… driving into the race track is always exciting. Especially at Barber Motorsport park, it is an amazing experience as you follow the long flowing road through the foothills around the race track past the waterfall and spectator areas tucked in the woods. It is a real experience just arriving.
As we hop out of the rental we are greeted by the clean white Carlin Motorsport truck and the two Indy Lights cars and mechanics busily checking everything over to make sure the cars are ready when the track goes green. First is the round of fist bumps and good mornings followed by a quick briefing with Alex’s engineer, Steve Barker. Once this is done it's out on track for a few laps in the rental car to check the track condition and get a feel for how the track holds up in inclement conditions.
Once the track is cleared it’s back to the truck and into the warmup, skipping, juggling and resistance bands and neck work for around 20 mins get Alex into the physical zone ready to kit up and jump in the car. While the mechanics roll the car into the pit lane Alex conferes with Steve and they set their intentions for the morning session. The general structure is an install lap, followed by 3 successive programs focused around developing the cars behaviour and getting Alex as comfortable as possible on track. During the morning session before lunch Alex can get between 35-80 Laps in depending on things like weather, temperature and the amount of available tires.
Then comes lunch in the truck, which can be anything from sandwiches to seasoned meats and salads, while at the track our focus is to maintain a positive energy balance as Alex can burn upwards of 2500 - 3000 cals in the car during the day. We keep track of his output using the Whoop strap which is a fantastic activity tracker we started using in his preseason training in Hobart.
After lunch it's very similar to the morning. A big variable that has a huge effect on the outcome is ambient and track temperature, the higher these are the slower the lap times. After another install lap due to any changes that the mechanics make over lunch, it’s onto another 3-5 program stint or 40-60 laps. In the afternoon they focus more on feeling as the lap times fall off due to track and tire temperature and develop structured monolog to help Alex and Steve make positive changes with the car.
One thing that stood out to me is that the Carlin team has amazing communication, there are generally 10 people per car involved including mechanics, support team, engineers, the team manager and myself. It's inspiring to watch how succinct and effective the communication between engineers, mechanics and support staff is and how well they execute their objectives.
Once the track goes red around 5pm the cars come in and the team begin to pull down the cars and pack all of the equipment back into the truck ready to be returned to the workshop or shipped onto the next location. This takes them about an hour, so they arrive before us to set up and then leave after us while they pull down the equipment, a huge effort and zero complaining. I really believe that they all love what they do!
After a big day we generally don't last very long into the night so it's home to the hotel or condo, grabbing a quick relatively healthy dinner on the way and lights out.
My three main takeaways:
Communication is key, whether you are working in a race team, and office team or a sports team. How effectively you can communicate the goal and desired outcomes will directly affect how successful you can be.
There is so much more to racing a car in a championship than just putting in petrol and driving. Changes down to one degree can have an immense impact of how the car reacts to the point of becoming un-drivable. one degree the right way and it's a dream on rails, one degree the wrong way and it's a bucking bronco hell bent on throwing you off.
Success is 100% a team sport, you can be successful in your field but without a supportive team that believes in your just cause you are without the tools to surpass your ceiling.
In conclusion I just want to share a short video that my wife showed me, it speaks to the difference between a “group” and a “team”. Carlin is a team, a collection of inter-dependable individuals that support one another in their pursuit of their common goal, to win the championship. For a more in depth explanation of what it means to be in a “Team” have a quick watch below.
Until next time,