Podcast #4: IndyCar Driver Pippa Mann Explains the Importance of Data & Analytics

pippa mann podcast analytics

Gather Data, Analyzing Data - Trying To Make Our IndyCar Faster and Handle Well


Jack Mansfield: Welcome to another exciting edition of our Transformative IT Service Management podcast. This is Jack Mansfield. Again joining me is Brenda Lichtenberg, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Portfolio. And we have a special guest today. We're very fortunate to have IndyCar race car driver Pippa Mann here with us. Good morning, Pippa.

Pippa Mann: Good morning. It's great to be here today.

Jack Mansfield: Hey, thanks very much-

Pippa Mann: You're welcome.

Jack Mansfield: ... for joining us. So we're gonna go through a couple of topics. One today and then we're gonna do another conversation. But the one today, really, we're gonna talk about data and analytics. And a lot of businesses and a lot of people really have been talking about the importance of data, the importance of analytics in impacting the decisions that they make on a day to day and on a realtime basis. How important is data and analytics in IndyCar?

Pippa Mann: It's incredibly important because one of the things that we're trying to do in IndyCar is we're trying to make the cars go as fast as possible and handle as well as possible. And we do all that by gathering together the data, analyzing it, and trying to make the cars better. And trying to make the drivers better, too. Let me just throw that out there in case one of my engineers is listening. And trying to make the drivers better, too.

Jack Mansfield: Absolutely. So that data that you're getting, right, obviously, it takes time to process that data and make decisions. So how early in the practice process when you are heading towards qualification do you start thinking about how we can make things better?

Pippa Mann: So every time the race car hits the track, there's live data coming back to the timing stand from the race car. And that data in short term is the speed of the car. So every time the data dips on the speed trace, it's going through a corner. Every time the data rises, it's on a straight. There's throttle graphs, braking graphs, damper graphs. All of these different graphs that are being fed back in real time. The engine engineers are looking at the same thing from an engine perspective, monitoring all that information. And then you've got me, the monkey behind the wheel.

Jack Mansfield: Sure.

Pippa Mann: Kind of the main bolt in the car, as they say. So what I'm doing, my inputs to the car are being analyzed, and I'm also trying to pick up information as to what the car's telling me. What it's doing that I personally like. What it's doing that I personally don't like. So we can not only make the car fast, but also comfortable for me to drive.

Jack Mansfield: That's a really interesting point, right? Not only does the car have to perform as fast as possible and get as much speed as possible, but I guess every single IndyCar driver has a little bit of a different style and technique. And so your individual handling and whether or not you're putting the different inputs into the car is taken into account.

Pippa Mann: Absolutely. Some drivers prefer understeer. That's where the car has a bit of a push, goes a little a stray, but the back end's really, really secure. Other drivers prefer oversteer. That's where the back of the car moves around a little bit. Personally, I fall into that second category.

Jack Mansfield: Okay.

Pippa Mann: But the most important thing about being in that category is that the car talks to me and has a conversation with me, and I can feel what the car is doing. Anytime the race car feels numb and I don't really know what it's doing underneath me, I don't care what the computer screen says.

Jack Mansfield: Sure.

Pippa Mann: I just know I don't like it.

Jack Mansfield: Yeah. Absolutely. I'm sure that in that moment when you're in the car on the track and something's going a little sideways, the data is the last thing on your mind.

Pippa Mann: Yeah. I want as much information coming up through the seat of my pants as quickly as possible at those speeds to be able to react as quickly as possible.

Jack Mansfield: Oh, that's right.

Pippa Mann: By the time my engineer has seen what's going on from the timing stand, sometimes, it can be too late, even, for him to react. And a good example of that is in qualifying a couple of years ago, I had a rear-wing end plate delaminate. That means that as I was coming into turn two on the racetrack, I had no down force at the back of the car and I spun. On the data, the lap before, I had so much oversteer, it was ridiculous. And it was bad and I was moving all of the tools I have inside the cockpit in the car to try and cure it. My engineer was looking at the data and kind of ripping his hair out like, "What is going on? She's moving everything to try and fix this. It looks a little better. I don't know what's going on."

My mechanic, who doesn't have the ability to talk to me while I'm on track, only my engineer does, wasn't looking at the data. He was looking at the TV screen. And as I came down the front straight, he could see this issue happening with the rear wing, but he couldn't contact me. My engineer was trying to work out what was going on from the data, and I didn't know driving. So by the time we all figured it out, unfortunately, it was too late, and we had to put the car back together again to try and go again the next day.

Jack Mansfield: Sure, sure.

Brenda L.: Yeah. So that's a great example of how you have the different components, and if you can bring those components together while you're racing, you can maybe have a little bit more control about what's gonna happen.

Pippa Mann: Absolutely. And that's one of the big disadvantages to being on a smaller team. On a bigger team, there would have been somebody standing on the timing stand next to my engineer who was also watching the TV screens who would have been tugging at his shirt going, "Hey, hey, hey. Tell her to slow down. Tell her to slow down."

Jack Mansfield: Sure, sure. Well, I really like that story. It's important. A lot of times when companies start thinking about analytics, they only think about what does the hard data tell you, but I think once you get that broader picture and put the empirical data with the subjective personal experience of what's going on, you really can get that fuller picture. With the data that's coming in to you, how concerned is your team with the overall security of the data?

Pippa Mann: So on the bigger teams in IndyCar, they're very, very concerned about the security of their data. They don't want the teams like us who don't have as much money, maybe haven't done as much testing, to find out what they're doing with their race cars. On our team, we're also pretty concerned that people don't see our data, too, because we don't want those other teams to know what we might be doing better than them, that we might have discovered even though we haven't done as much testing or been able to spend as much money. And we certainly don't want them to know our weaknesses.

Jack Mansfield: Well, sure.

Pippa Mann: So we want to keep all of that as hidden as much as possible. But in general terms in IndyCar racing, the bigger the team, the stronger the data security gets.

Jack Mansfield: I think that probably is a natural corollary to the business world. You see some of the largest businesses with real big data security, data integrity teams. Although, as we've talked about before, Brenda, some of the biggest security breaches actually do happen with those big firms.

Brenda L.: Absolutely.

Jack Mansfield: Well, you brought up an interesting point about being on a smaller team. I know you're a part of Dale Coyne Racing. Do you have any type of cooperation with the other team members?

Pippa Mann: Absolutely. We're going to be a four-car team this May, and amongst our four cars, we will be sharing information. We'll be sharing what the drivers are feeling, talking about, as well as the hard data that's coming in off the cars. But beyond our four cars at Dale Coyne racing, we don't share data with the rest of the paddock, and they certainly don't share data with us. We're all out there competing against one another. So there are some numbers that are public and other numbers, for example, the lap speed, the no tow charts or as fast as you go without being towed around by another car, speeds at various points on the racetrack, sector time, so how long it takes you to get through a sector on the racetrack. Beyond that, you really don't know what your competition is doing. However, the nice thing about racing is you can sometimes walk past the car and have a good eyeball at it and see what your competition's doing just naturally when it comes to wing angles and suspension placement and some of the more obvious things.

Brenda L.: So, question on that. I mean, how do you use all that data? So now you have it, and some of it's just your data and some of it you share. But how do you analyze it, how do you use it, and how do you build suggestions out of that?

Pippa Mann: So for me, personally, it's working with my engineer to achieve two ends, sort of circling back to where we started. Firstly, we're trying to make the car faster. Secondly, we're trying to make the car handle in a way that I'm comfortable with out there on the racetrack. So we're trying to work together to do those two things. Now, he's the one who's going to be digging deep through all of the information, and I am the one who's relying more on feelings. That being said, occasionally, they'll look at the data and see something that I'm doing as the driver that they think I should fix or change or needs altering. And then they'll show that to me, and they'll show it to me as a line graph, so I can literally see my graph next to my teammate's graph, and show me where it's losing me time and where it's gaining me time.

Jack Mansfield: I'm sure that type of direct input helps influence your technique as a driver.

Pippa Mann: Especially when you get onto road courses. On an oval such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedaway, it's also a little bit subjective at times.

Jack Mansfield: Yeah.

Pippa Mann: But when I have the opportunity to race other cars on road courses, absolutely. It's a really, really big part of how I learn as a driver.

Jack Mansfield: Great. So you talked about some of the public information that IndyCar has done. I know the fan experience has changed over the years as they've made different mobile applications, sharing some of that track time and the speeds and those types of things. I guess those same applications and websites and all of the things that are out there on the internet today, while it's great for a fan, I guess it's kind of informing your competition, as well, a little bit. 

Pippa Mann: So most of the data that's public facing really is data that's public facing.

Jack Mansfield: Okay.

Pippa Mann: But there's very little data out there on those sites that the teams would wish to keep internal. I think the only piece of data that I've ever seen that is interesting to competitor teams and drivers, specifically at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is on a qualifying run the data that has now been made public through the IndyCar app, if you pull up a specific driver, you can see whether they're lifting from lap one or not on their qualifying run, or how many laps they're able to get into it before they start lifting.

Jack Mansfield: Okay.

Pippa Mann: Now, that's normally a direct correlation to how little down force they've got on the car. So normally, you can look at the amount of down force somebody is running and tell how soon they're going to lift, anyway. But that's certainly something that's interesting when you're sitting there watching it. Other than that, most of the fan facing data tends to be very generic, for want of a better word. And anything that's sort of really worthwhile is not really fan facing. It's sort of kept behind closed doors still.

Jack Mansfield: Well, as a competitor, I'm sure that's a good thing. I know in a lot of sports, different sports that people watch, we're now kind of used to seeing the clipboard over the mouth when the coach is talking on the TV and they have all sorts of different shields over screens and data. Data is becoming more and more prevalent and used more often in a lot of different areas.

Brenda L.: And what you said is very ... I mean, everything's been very enlightening in terms of the analytics that you're using. And a lot of people think analytics might just be in the IT industry, right? But really, it applies to any industry and any position, especially if race car driving, like the experiences that you kind of walked us through today, is that really, you have to take a lot into consideration from everything that you do, beginning to end, and where you're driving, before the race, after the race, and analyzing all aspects.

Pippa Mann: It's certainly a very big part of what we do.

Jack Mansfield: Well, Pippa, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation. This has been another episode of our Transformative IT Service Management Podcast. We're gonna come back next time to talk a little bit about service management, which probably people are out there scratching their heads at how am I gonna connect the dots between service management and racing? Well, you're gonna have to turn in next time to find out. Thank you.

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