6/1/1997 | 11 MINUTE READ

Winning Through Optimization

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The people at Target Chip Ganassi Racing are continually working to meet deadlines with vehicles that can win races. The operative approach is one where they leverage resources wherever possible, thereby achieving optimization. Here's how it works.


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Target Chip Ganassi Racing (Indianapolis) won the 1996 PPG Indy Car World Series Championship thanks to driver Jimmy Vasser's performance behind the wheel. Vasser's teammate, Alex Zanardi, did well, too, as he was crowned rookie of the year for the `96 season. This year, like last, the drivers are campaigning the same packages: Reynard chassis, Honda engines, and Firestone tires.

Tom Anderson, managing director of the firm, and a veteran of Indy car racing, having been a crew member on the Indianapolis 500 and PPG Cup champion Jim Hall team back in 1980, says that unlike other teams (such as Team Rahal), they do comparatively little remanufacturing of components on the rolling chassis that the team buys from Reynard. However, this is not to say that they use the cars as-supplied out of the box from the chassis-maker's Bicester, England, facility.

"Our people here are more familiar with the mechanics of a race car than are the people who assemble them in England," Anderson says. The Reynard vehicle designers, he notes, are first rate. "But when it comes to the shop floor, the people who assemble the cars don't have a whole lot of racing experience."

So, upon receipt at the team's 22,900-ft2 facility, the cars are completely disassembled. Tolerances are checked. There are four people on the team who are aircraft-certified in inspection techniques. Parts undergo Xyglo and Magnaflux checks. Bearings are packed with the grease that's preferred by the team. When the components are reassembled, there is assurance that the parts are put together as they should be, such as making sure that the air scoops to the brakes are completely sealed.


Beyond the Status Quo

Which is not to say that things are necessarily ideal, nor that there isn't the manufacture of components on the team's premises. In fact, T.J. Nish, a machinist who has been with the team for five years, says that the machine tools on site are kept regularly busy. The primary machine is a vertical spindle Spirit 40 SLV machining center built by Hurco (which is, incidentally, an Indianapolis-based company). There are a couple of knee mills from Tree, and a couple of manual lathes, one built by Mori Seiki and the other by Harrison. Nish is hopeful that they'll be getting a CNC lathe sometime soon. All of the tooling run on the various machines is provided by Kennametal (Latrobe, PA), which is one of the team's sponsors.

Indeed, there is an array of parts produced: suspension parts...exhaust system components...gearbox case and components...The materials include steel, stainless steel, magnesium, titanium, and even Inconel. The objective is not only to make modifications that can improve the performance of the vehicle, but also to make things that are more economically built in house than purchased on the outside, or which aren't otherwise available.

For example, one of the produced components is a "weight jacker." This is affixed to one of the rear shocks. Its purpose is to allow the driver to modify the spring travel. The reason why this is important: During a race, as fuel is being used, the balance of the car changes. So the weight jacker provides the ability to compensate for the change. The component is not a Reynard catalog item. Target Chip Ganassi Racing engineers devised it.

As for something that's been determined to be more economical to make than buy: The pillars that are used to hold the rear wing at a particular height and angle. Because there are a variety of courses run (road courses, street courses, ovals, super-speedways), the downforce requirements for the car vary. This necessitates an array of wing positions. So instead of buying the pillars from Reynard, they are machined in the shop as required.

In addition to the machine shop, there is a small molding facility on site where various composite parts—brake scoops and radiator ducting, for example—are produced and others—such as wings—are repaired. However, it is generally necessary to create the molds from an existing part (although Nish says that some mold machining is performed), so the composite activity isn't extensive.

(One area where the composites shop is useful: In producing components for "show cars," those vehicles that you might see at an auto show or at a promotional event at a Target store. The team has eight of these cars. Although they appear to be the cars that the drivers race, as they are painted and covered with all of the requisite sponsor decals, they are not only engineless, but they may have been cannibalized for spare parts. These are not Hollywood-style mock-ups, though. They were once bona fide race cars.)

Tom Anderson says that generally, if there is a deficiency discovered with the cars received from Reynard, the chassis builder is advised and is generally fairly responsive. In all, he estimates that 5% of the parts that appear on the cars during the season are manufactured in the team's shop. The shop, however, like job shops that are similar (except that they tend not to have world-famous race car drivers on site on occasion), is kept busy producing development parts as well as components that are deployed
by the pit crew or the hospitality staff (the former keeps the cars going during the race; the latter, which includes the making of food for the team at the tracks, keeps the whole operation going).


Working Benefits

There are, Anderson suggests, a couple of advantages to the team by working in this manner. For one thing, it helps keep inventory costs down, as Reynard carries the spare parts, not Target Chip Ganassi Racing. For another, Reynard, which produces other types of race cars in addition to the Indy-spec units, has personnel that it can quickly redeploy to handle any emergency programs that may come up. The team doesn't have the staff.

If the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team engineers come up with a new innovation for the cars that they have Reynard produce, then that innovation is exclusive to the team for the season (this is true with regard to all of the teams that get cars from Reynard). The following season Reynard can offer it to all customers.

If Reynard engineers come up with a new innovation during the course of the season, then the usual practice is that the car builder makes it available to a few teams initially, then to all of its customers by the next race.

But Anderson points out that the exclusive innovations aren't exactly a secret advantage, especially if they are visible to competitive observers. What happens is that other teams take as close a look as possible at the new wing shape or whatever and then replicate it as closely as possible. "Maybe we'll get just 70 to 80% of the effectiveness," Anderson admits, adding, "But we get most of it."

(If you've ever walked through the garage or paddock area before a CART [Championship Auto Racing Teams] race, you've undoubtedly noticed that parts of the vehicles are often covered with tarps. According to Anderson, the objective is to keep the competition from getting a good look at the shocks, springs and rockers. Apparently, knowledgeable people can calculate the amount of force provided by within a few hundred pounds just by looking at the setup. This is valuable information, so it is hidden as well as is practical.)

"In this league," Anderson says, "what we run the first part of the season is very different from what we'll be running at the end." Historically the final race was at Laguna Seca in Monterey; this year it will be at Roger Penske's new track, the California Speedway, in Fontana. He explains that input from the drivers, the data taken from the telemetry systems on board the cars, on-going wind tunnel testing, and competitive "benchmarking" all help lead to modifications, such as aerodynamic tweaks that lead to increases in downforce. The work is never ending. Machinist Nish says that they work the amount of time needed to get the job done. He says that he's thought about getting a job in one of the plants in Indianapolis, where the hours are regular. "But I like doing different things all of the time. It really keeps you thinking." He adds, "And it is really nice to see your work when you watch the races on Sundays."

How the team will fare will be known only at the end of the season (September 28). But after just two races, Alex Zanardi set a new record for consecutive poles, knocking off the venerable Mario Andretti and Danny Sullivan.


The Cutting Tool Connection

Kennametal Inc. (Latrobe, PA) has been a sponsor of Target Chip Ganassi Racing since mid-1994. One of the factors that played a role in the relationship between the cutting tool manufacturing company and the championship team is responsiveness.

That is, in `94, the bureaucratic gears were slowly turning, moving toward a sponsorship agreement. Before that was done, the team's machine shop in Indianapolis needed some tooling. And they needed it right away. So Kennametal people responded. The machine tools were up and running. The other stuff was worked out in due course.

Robert A. Kohls, Kennametal metalworking systems engineer, works closely with T.J. Nish, who is nominally a machinist at the race team, but who is not only an operator but a programmer and tool buyer. Kohls calls on plenty of shops in the Indianapolis area. One thing that strikes him as being different about Target Chip Ganassi Racing is the degree to which the people in the organization actually work together, with Nish, for example, being in sync with what the engineers and designers are doing. Everyone is focused on the cars and are focused on winning.

They are also always working quickly. Kohls said that it is common for requests for tools A.S.A.P.—if not sooner.

Most of the machining performed in the shop is of small lots. Twenty pieces is a big lot there.

A variety of materials are machined, including aluminum, titanium, magnesium, and Inconel. There is lots of milling performed on the Hurco machining center with an assortment of end mills: standard carbide end mills, center cutting end mills, and ball-nose end mills. The tool grade selected depends, of course, on the type of material being machined. Often, it could be a general-purpose K600 material, which is a micrograin carbide that can withstand heavy cutting loads without deflection. Nish may utilize grade KC610, a PVD titanium nitride coated grade, which can be used to machine all ferrous materials and which provides long tool life.

Kennametal provides a variety of other metalworking-related tooling to the team through its "Team Kennametal" program. As a result, it can provide drills from Precision Twist Drill, taps from Regal-Beloit, saw blades or measuring equipment from Starrett, tooling components from Aro, fixturing from Carr Lane, abrasives from Norton, and wire wheels from Osborn.


Thinking About A Career Move?

Ever consider chucking your job and starting up a team that would race in the PPG Cup Series?

It could happen.

If you have $3.5-million.

According to Tom Anderson, that will allow the creation of a team—with 7 to 8 people, including a secretary—that can campaign a single car. It would permit testing for a maximum of five days. Which isn't a whole lot of time to work the bugs out of a car.

The $3.5-million would be enough to break even at the end of the season. As Anderson puts it, "It's a godawful amount of work for no money."

Want to race so that your team would finish in the top 10? That will cost at least twice as much—and that's assuming that your driver has the stuff to compete with the likes of people named Andretti and Unser.


Management Tips from Where Things Go Fast

As managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Tom Anderson is, fundamentally, a manager.

Does he think that managers at more conventional places—like OEM and supplier companies—can learn some things from what the racing experience teaches? Absolutely.

"One thing that this industry does," Anderson says, "is live by deadlines. We know that at a specific time on a specific day the green flag is going to be dropped and the race will start. They don't care if you're there or not.

"If you're not ready for the practice session on the Friday before the race, then so what? No one is going to wait for you to show up.

"We can't push back deadlines. And we have to meet those deadlines with the most competitive product that we can produce. If we're five minutes late, we might as well not be there."

Two key elements make being there and being competitive happen: Planning and communications.

"We are living within parameters," Anderson says. "We know what the priorities are and we live by them.

Planning gets the priorities straight. Unexpected things do come up. And the expectation is that people will do what it takes to get it done. But Anderson points out that these unexpected things must be the exceptions, not the rule, for at least a couple of reasons. For one thing, they are aware that the people on the team, the engineers, machinists and the rest are people. They can only be pushed so far for so long. "We're not going to be massacring our workers."

Second, there is the issue of the budget. "We can't do everything last minute. That would kill our budget."

As for communicating, he points out, "When we have a major problem, it usually comes back to poor management. So it is important that we clearly communicate with our people so that problems don't arise. It is something we're always working on, trying to improve."

"Success," Anderson says, "is achieved by the team with the fewest problems, and the one that is able to deal with them better than the competition."