Interview by Noah Graff
Today’s Machining World Archives November/December 2010 Volume 06 Issue 09
Grant Weaver is one of the team managers for Chip Ganassi Racing in Indianapolis. He is in charge of production, purchasing and preparation of subassembly components for Ganassi’s ROLEX GRAND-AM Racing and IZOD IndyCar Series, both 2010 champion teams.
What is a typical piece of pit equipment you’d build in the team’s machine shop?
GW: We build all of our pit equipment here. We make timing stands, fuel rigs, wheel carts. Everything has to be as quick as it can be, so we try to make everything down to the wheel guns that take the nuts off the race car. We use air jacks—a pneumatic jack to lift the car. We look at every aspect of the car to try to make it go faster or make it lighter.
What’s the difference between Formula 1 cars and Indy cars?
GW: The cars look pretty similar but a lot more money is spent developing Formula 1 cars. Also, the rule sets are different and the minimum weight of [Indy] cars changes depending on the track, whether it’s an oval or road course or superspeedway. [Indy] cars are around 1,600 pounds empty, while Formula 1 cars are 1,200 pounds. Indy cars have about 650 horsepower, and Formula 1 cars have about 750 horsepower. A Formula 1 car would not be able to race at the Indianapolis 500 because the parts and pieces on it aren’t designed to take the G-loadings and the high speeds.
Is there a lot less contact between cars in an IndyCar race than a NASCAR race?
GW: In NASCAR, it’s a little easier for you to lean on your friends than it is in IndyCar. In IndyCar, if you touch wheels, one of them is going to go flying. In NASCAR, you can bump a little bit, but the idea is that the cars are so tweaked aerodynamically that if you’re rubbing fenders or banging on somebody, you’re changing your aero and that car might not work as well as it was previously.
How much does one Indy car cost?
GW: Basically you can say the initial expense is about $375,000 for a rolling car. You add $100,000 worth of electronics. We lease the engines [from Honda], and the lease is approximately a million dollars per year per driver. The brakes don’t come on the car and the drive shafts don’t come on the car. So when all is said and done and you put a car on the racetrack, there’s about a million dollars rolling around on the road.
How important is the speed of the pit stops? It seems strange to me that the cars actually stop in the middle of a race.
GW: That’s a relative word, “stop.” The driver is never fully stopped. You’ve got to think about stick and ball sports like football and baseball. When the offense is on the field, the defense is resting and vice versa. A race car driver’s only reprieve is during that pit stop. He’s got to be able to put the car on an exact spot in his pit box so that his guys can perform their tasks without having to move. Right now it takes less than six seconds to fuel an Indy car during the pit stop with 22 gallons of ethanol, while changing all four tires at the same time.
How has safety for Indy car improved over the years?
GW: The cockpit area of the car is phenomenally safer than just a few years ago. The seats [are safer], [the helmets] have a HANS device to keep the driver’s head realistically attached to his body. There are different seatbelts and special padding that go around the cockpit. All help contribute to the driver being able to walk away from a horrendous crash.
What are your favorite racing movies?
GW: I have a couple favorite movies. Grand Prix with James Garner from around 1966, which went during the Formula 1 season that year. Le Mans with Steve McQueen, which played a lot around the Le Mans 24-hour race of 1970. And, not so much for the drama part, but Paul Newman in Winning, which is from the 1960s and also focuses around the Indianapolis 500. They haven’t made a lot of good movies about racing since then. Talladega Nights is the worse movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Didn’t think much of Days of Thunder either.