While the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car is temporarily idle on pit lane as the Holmatro Safety Team surveys the Twin Ring Motegi racing surface for debris during practice, Kevin O’Donnell and crew swarm around driver Dario Franchitti.
Engineer Chris Simmons is notified there will be three minutes of track time left in the session and asks O’Donnell if there’s time to change some aero bits and a spring to test in the remaining few laps.
“Of course I said ‘yes,’ ’’ said O’Donnell, the chief mechanic and outside-front tire changer for the No. 10 entry. “I’ll tell the guys and everything starts moving fast. We got it done and got some laps in, and it turned out to be the wrong direction. We tried it and it’s checked off the list.”
For the attention and accolades heaped upon drivers, it’s a team sport and O’Donnell is the conduit between strategy and car performance. In securing his second consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series championship with Target Chip Ganassi Racing,Franchitti this season recorded three victories, two pole starts and 13 top-five finishes. In the ’09 title season, he had five victories and 13 top-five finishes.
“I just do what they ask,” says O’Donnell, who received a product of his choice from Honda during the Championship Celebration as Chief Mechanic of the Year. “All the information about the performance of the car Dario speaks to Chris about. I’m more concentrated on looking at the car and making sure everything is good while they’re talking about nuances.”
During race pit stops, the 11 crew members work as a cohesive service unit. IndyCar Timing & Scoring data relative to the time a car is on pit lane (passing the pit in line to pit out) supplemented by team data (car stop to wheel spin) and video provides feedback and incentive.
“We do a lot of practice in the off-season and have a comprehensive exercise program that I would say are the base of what we do,” O’Donnell says. “We’re always trying to keep things at a high level. We know we can do it, and that’s our expectation – to have clean pit stops. By doing that, we’ve been able to keep ourselves at the front of the pack this year. It’s not worth championship points, but it’s one more thing we can measure ourselves against the field.”
Consistently quick and flawless stops, however, have led to position advancements. Those, in turn, have led to more points accrued over the 17-race season. And when the title margin is five points, as it was this season over Will Power of Verizon Team Penske, everyone shares in the success.
“Everyone likes to be appreciated and recognized by the people you work with,” O’Donnell says. “When we come in third and go out first, the first thing Dario says on the radio is ‘Great job, guys.’ Not everybody is like that. He’s a great guy who expects a lot out of us and we deliver.”