Always Be Learning – that’s my philosophy when it comes to driving a race car. When I’m not behind the wheel, that philosophy is still with me as I coach other drivers. I recently had the opportunity to be the crew chief, engineer and driver coach to a good friend and driver Tommy Browne of Project X-22 Racing. Browne races a Van Diemen F2000 open wheel Formula Continental (FC) race car in the Pacific F2000 Series. There were challenges along the way, however, it was an immensely satisfying experience to help a fellow driver improve his craft both inside and outside of the cockpit.
One of the most important roles I have as a crew chief is learning what a driver likes as far as their timing for getting ready for the grid. Working back from that helps everyone on the team be on the same page for scheduling and driver access. Numerous other aspects such as radio communication preferences, meal types/timing, and other aspects also require careful consideration. The bottom line is to make sure that your driver is in a state physically and mentally to achieve their greatest performance every time they hit the track. From an engineering side, we debrief with the driver and look into making changes on the car to make it faster and more comfortable. From a coaching side, it’s all about the proper preparation to go fast and that includes driver debriefs, video, and data review. We worked on those things during the weekend and helped Browne lower his lap times.
I had a nightmare a couple of nights before I showed up to Buttonwillow Raceway Park to begin my crew chief role. I dreamed that we had to “split” the car and we worked on the gearbox in an “all-nighter” that lasted until 3 or 4 in the morning. Sometimes dreams come true! We were scheduled to run the open test day starting at 10 a.m. on Friday of race weekend. Browne was ready to go early and went out at 9 a.m. After about five or six laps he came in with a clutch issue. It ended up that we had to “split” the car and spend the rest of the day diagnosing the problem, sourcing parts, fixing and then reassembling the car – but at least we were finished before dinner! Due to that challenge, it put us a step behind our racing plans going into the weekend, but being racers, we adapt to adversity and we just get on with the task at hand. Practice and qualifying went reasonably well and Browne went quicker than he had been before. Having that success still left us wanting more as we’re always looking to go quicker (we always set ideal, reasonable and minimal goals for every session and for the overall weekend). Without a split start for this group, Browne was passed by a faster class car at the start (way more horsepower) even though that driver had qualified slower than Browne. It ended up being a lonely race for Browne although he was able to implement some techniques that we had discussed earlier.
Race day two arrived and Browne got a great start and moved up right away. You could tell that he was ready to race and was challenging for positions and moving forward. Unfortunately, about three laps in he experienced a very rare part breakage that ended his day. He was understandably upset about that – and so was the team, as we wanted to see him keep moving up through the field. Looking at the big picture though, it was a great gain in performance for him. Also, the good news was that he was able to get out of his car at a corner worker’s station and learn some more techniques for getting through that sequence of corners faster, and that will ultimately help him in upcoming races.
All-in-all, like most race weekends, there were highs and lows. The highs of seeing him lower his lap times and his increased competitiveness in the race, to the lows of mechanical failures and the DNF. I must say that I gained a huge appreciation for what my crew chief does for me throughout a race weekend. As a driver, we tend to be selfishly minded and just think about going fast. There sure are a lot of other external factors that go into making a successful race weekend. Was our race weekend a success? Overall, I’ll say yes. Browne went faster than he had been, and we all learned a tremendous amount that will help us next time. Always Be Learning – a mantra that rang true for us all.
NOTE: A huge thank you to the crew Beth, Sonia and Lucas who certainly got their steps in and utilized an enormous amount of sweat equity and brain power to help this to be a successful weekend. Also, thanks go out to our garage partner Preston who was always willing to lend a hand. Numerous others to thank include the corner workers, tech officials, emergency personnel and all of the other SCCA volunteers. Thanks to the other competitors who we were able to source parts, supplies and advice from. Most of all, thanks to Tommy Browne for giving me this opportunity, he’s truly a class act.
Project X-22 Racing Team. From L-R: Sonia, Larry, Tommy and Beth (Lucas not pictured)
Photo by Preston Lerner
Larry (l-r), Sonia, Tommy (Beth and Lucas not pictured) are all smiles. Getting ready to put on fresh sticker tires will do that for you!
Photo courtesy of CaliPhotography
Part of going fast is figuring out the downforce versus drag compromise. Numerous choices are available.
Photo by Larry Mason
By Larry Mason
Copyright © 2022 Larry Mason