Podcast #5: How Does IndyCar Driver Pippa Mann Turn Data Into Action

pippa mann data into action

How Does IndyCar Driver Pippa Mann Turn Data Into Action


Jack: Welcome, this is another episode of our transformative IT service management podcast. I'm joined again today with Brenda Lichtenberg, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Portfolio. Also again, I'm joined with IndyCar driver, Pippa Mann. Pippa, thanks for coming back here.

Pippa: Hi, thanks for having me back. I guess once wasn't enough, can't get rid of me huh?

Jack: No, don't want to.

Brenda: Come back.

Jack: That's right. Last time we talked about analytics, which is, you know, the data, both the empirical data that you're ... The sensors in the car output, as well as sort of the subjective data, the feeling and the experience that you have as a race driver. There's the next step. Once you have that data, you kind of have to turn that data into action. That concept of turning data into action really relates to service management. Super high level service management is that concept of, something needs to happen, and then we ask for that thing to happen, we make sure it's fulfilled, and then we watch the results of that.

Obviously as a race driver, starting before the race, with qualifications practice from a strategy perspective, there is a lot of things you're doing to change the race car and change your strategy. How does that work?

Pippa: Throughout practice, we're trying to focus on two things, the speed and the handling of the race car. Every time we're making changes, we're making notes how it affects the handling and how that change affects the speed. Sometimes we'll find changes that I really like from a driver's perspective, but the speed is a little bit slower. You say, Okay, maybe this is a change that is better to have available for the race, and maybe we don't use this change for pole flying.

Then, as we come up to the race itself, we're trying to start with a car that we think will handle fairly well. That's the goal. 500 miles is a long race.

Jack: Yeah.

Pippa: We also want to leave ourselves somewhere to go. What do I mean by that? We want to leave ourselves enough room whereby we can adjust the wing settings throughout the course of the race to give ourselves more, or less. Downfalls if we think that's what we need to enable the car to go faster in racing circumstances. Beyond that, sitting in the cockpit, I'm making lots of small decisions the entire time throughout the race to use the tools that are available to me, as a driver inside the cockpit of the race car. We call it, staying ahead of the tires. That means that every time I feel the car do something, I'm trying to make changes before the tire gets unhappy. When your tires get unhappy as a race car driver, that's what slows you down.

Jack: Sure. I like that concept of planning ahead to have some flexibility so that during the race, there is the ability to change a little bit in either direction. From that, I'm sure there's a question of who has the authority to make that change.

Brenda: Who's got the approval process and how do you go about doing that?

Jack: Yeah. Is it an engineer? Is it a crew chief? Is it you who has the final call?

Pippa: On most teams, you have a race strategist who has the final call. On our team, as we're a smaller team, it's literally myself and my race engineer. While I'm making these changes in the car during my run, he'll be monitoring the live data that's coming back, watching it, and he'll generally have a good idea of what I want before he asks me. My biggest decision, normally, is to make a decision as to whether we're going to try and make a balanced change using downfalls. More or less front wing, more or less rear wing, or whether we're going to try and do it using tire pressures. Both of those can have a very big impact. The reason that decision often falls to me to make the final decision rather than the engineer is, if you go more front downfalls, because you've got a understeering, you don't have enough front grip, that can make the car handle quite catastrophically badly if you overstack that bar just a little bit, and it can make the next stint of your life really, really interesting.

We've certainly done that a few times where we've tried to creep up on something from a different angle. It's okay, let's try front wing. You do one step and think, no, no, no, take that back out, let's try something else.

Jack: Sure. Now that you've sort of, you planned for some of these changes, or in the case of the middle of the race, there is a real-time need, Oh my gosh, we need to make this happen. You make the decision and we're going to make it happen. Who are the people that actually make the changes? Is that the pit crew?

Pippa: It's my pit crew whom actually make the changes to the car. My engineer authorizes the decision, they make the changes whether it's terms of wing changes or tire changes. In IndyCar, I keep mentioning these tools in the cockpit, our front and rear anti-roll bars are actually adjustable inside the cockpit.

Jack: Okay.

Pippa: I'm making those changes while I'm driving on the fly and making those decisions. I also have tool in our car called the weight jacket. It'd take me a little time to explain, it's a little awkward buyer podcast that basically, it allows me to move weight to the inside front wheel of the car to help it turn in real-time while I'm in the car, or conversely, move weight to the outside front wheel of the car if the car's trying to turn too much to kind of slow the car down on turning.

Jack: Sure.

Brenda: You kind of manage this emergency changes throughout the entire race because you're making changes, they're going to be making changes, and you have to have really good communication.

Pippa: In racing terms, none of the changes we've just described are actually emergency changes They're kind of all standard changes.

Brenda: That's your standard change.

Pippa: Yeah.

Brenda: Okay. Interesting.

Pippa: However, an emergency change in racing would be if I got into an instant with another car and for example, damaged my front wing and we had to put another one on the car in a pit stop. Take the entire node to that section off, put another one on, that would be an emergency change in racing.

Brenda: That's very interesting. All of that other work is really just pre-planning. You know, potentially, you will do all of that activity during the race. Then the emergency change is really unexpected things that would happen.

Pippa: Absolutely. The biggest emergency changes that you have to learn to live with on a very regular basis in racing, especially on an oval, and especially at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is factoring in extra pit stops, when potentially you weren't planning for them.

Whenever the track goes down for a portion period, depending on the timing of that, you'd need, your crew needs to be ready to potentially move to a pit stop pretty quickly, even if you maybe have 10 laps to go in your stint. That's one of the big ones is sort of being ready for pit stops at unexpected times.

Jack: That's really interesting. It sounds a lot. I'm looking over at Brenda now. Some of the things that happened in IT operations center where there's a lot of normal changes that are happening every day, whether it's a patch on a server or whether it's doing backup procedures, or updating logs. There's all of these things that are changes to the environment-

Brenda: Exactly

Jack: ...that just happen every single day. When an emergency happens, it's all hands on deck, we gotta make it happen real-time.

Brenda: Exactly. It's kind of funny that, even though again, we have completely different industries, whether you're talking about technology or racing cars, there's the element of service management and the element of change management and all of the planning that you do ahead of time, just like we do. We plan everything out and when it comes to the day of the race, or the day we make the change, there could be those emergency changes that we just haven't planned for. Likewise in the car racing industry.

Pippa: Yeah. Absolutely.

Jack: Once you've made a decision because of a caution, to get into the pit, maybe when you weren't originally planning on it.

Pippa: Yup.

Jack: How do you really make sure that that pit stop goes smoothly?

Pippa: I'm chuckling a little bit at that question. The bigger teams and the teams who are one off teams, but have big budgets to have crews there the entire month of May, you practice a lot of pit stops. I'm a one off driver. This is going to be my first IndyCar race of the year. It'll be my first IndyCar race since May of last year. For my engineer, it's going to be his first IndyCar race since May last year. For the guys who are coming over the wall to change my tires, you know where this is going.

Jack: Yeah.

Pippa: It's potentially going to be their first IndyCar race and going over the wall to change tires on an IndyCar since May last year. We don't have enough funding, and a lot of those guys have other jobs.

Jack: Sure.

Pippa: They're not available to come out during May. We can't afford to pay some of them to be there during the whole of May. We don't really get to practice. We get to carb day, which is our last test day before the race, and every year on carb day, my engineer and I sit there and we say, We are going to do X amount of hot stops, which means hot pit stops as practice. We are going to do this. And then you always end up fighting something in the handling right down to the last minute. Every last precious lap you can get on track is important. You never end up doing as many as you need.

How do we try and make sure it goes to plan on race day? We try and do it with a little slower.

Jack: Sure. Sure.

Pippa: What we try and do is we try and remind everybody to take their time. That includes me, how I'm entering pit lane. If I get caught speeding entering pit lane and I have to do a drive thru, that's way worse than me being a little slower entering pit lane and maybe losing a little bit of time to a competitor who might be faster. We tell my guys changing the tires, don't try and be the fastest guy on pit lane. Let's just try and get it done smoothly.

Brenda: Get it done right.

Pippa: That's the goal at every pit stop. We come into it knowing we're not going to be the fastest team on pit lane. In many ways, that's okay because especially at Indianapolis motor speedway, if my car is good and we're running well, I can go back around people.

Jack: That's really interesting. Sometimes the pressure to be the fastest sometimes gets in the way of the pressure to just do it right.

Pippa: Yeah. If you get it wrong, it can really, it can end your day, or it can ruin your day. We try and take that pressure very strongly of the crew and say, Look, we're not looking. We just want to try and do this right every time. It doesn't matter if it takes a second or two longer. Let's be completely honest. We're out there racing for a top 15. We're trying like crazy to get out first top 10 finish on the board, but we're not out there competing realistically for that number one spot in our position. If you're racing for first place, yes, every 10th of a second on the pit stop matters.

Jack: Sure.

Pippa: When you're competing for 15th through 10th place, it's more important to try and be clean every single time.

Jack: Wow. That's really interesting. How many pit stops will you have during the course of a day?

Pippa: Ooh. During the course of the race? Somewhere between six and nine.

Jack: Okay.

Pippa: Depending on when the cautions [crosstalk 00:11:31] and how it goes. As part of our planning for that to go back the emergency planning, we try and make sure we save enough sets of new tires from testing to have 10 new sets for race day. We have a set to start on and enough if we end up in that nightmare situation where you end up coming down pit lane nine times. That happened to me once by the way. It was not a fun day.

Jack: Okay.

Pippa: We got to the end, but it was not a fun day.

Brenda: that's an incredible amount of planning. An incredible amount of details and stocking that have to be in place in order for the whole process to go off successfully.

Pippa: Yeah. Here's another thing that I'm guessing your listeners wouldn't have thought about. Like most teams, including the teams with big budgets and lots more personnel, we don't even have 10 sets of rims for those tires to be on. The guys during the race are literally shuttling the used tires back to Firestone, whom are taking the tires off the wheels, putting more brand new tires on, and bringing them back out to pit lane for pit stops later in the race.

Jack: [crosstalk 00:12:33]

Brenda: Talk about time.

Jack: A whole another thing to coordinate and to keep track of. With all those different components and all the different people that we're interacting with, how important is that communication and coordination between those different groups?

Pippa: Communication is absolutely key. A prime example. Last year, unfortunately, at the very last pit stop in the race, a competitor's car was released into my path as I was entering into the pit. I got on the brakes and I just managed to avoid hitting him, but now I've stopped and my pit box is to my left, and I've got no way of getting into it. I radioed by engineer and I'm like, Hey, what do I do? He said, you're under yellow, you have enough fuel, just go. I got back on the radio, I said, repeat, just go? He said, "Go." So, I took off to go around and come back in the next lap. It wouldn't have actually hurt us that much except for losing a few positions.

Unfortunately on the communication side, one of my crew guys was not on the channel where my engineer speaks to me. He was on the channel where the crew chief speaks to him. He though we were going to be pulling the car kind of across the pit lane into my pit box. He put the wheelie jack underneath my car to pull it back. When I took off, I took off with a jack underneath my car, which is a penalty.

Jack: Oh my goodness.

Pippa: A drive-thru penalty at the end of the race trapped me a lap down last year. Until that point, we had been on for a top 15 finish. Those are the kind of things that can easily happen in that kind of emergency situation, especially when again, we're not doing this all year every year. It was really tough for my guys because they had been really good all day last year.

Brenda: Wow, that is incredible. I mean, that's, you know what, we just ran through a huge change this weekend. We did a lot of planning and everything came off pretty well. We had our emergency plans in place, but when you talk about your emergency planning and those type of communications and how live those communications have to be, that's a lot of detail-orientated and handoffs between the different teams. Not only between your own team, but between other teams as well right?

Pippa: Yeah. The frustrating thing from my part is if I hadn't taken the time to reconfirm with my engineer, he probably wouldn't have got the jack underneath me and I'd have probably been fine. In taking the time to double check one piece of communication, another piece wasn't being heard.

Jack: Wow. That just goes to understate that no matter how good you think your communication is, there's always room-

Pippa: Always room for improvement.

Jack: That's right.

Brenda: That's right.

Jack: That's right. Well Pippa, thanks again for joining us for this conversation on race driving and how it connects to service management. I think we're going to get Pippa to come back one more time and talk a little bit more on the fun side and just get a little bit, get to know her just a little bit more about her background in racing. Thanks again Pippa.

Brenda: Thank you.

Pippa: Thank you.

Jack: This has been an episode of Transformative IT Service Management. Please join again when we'll have Pippa one more time. Thanks.

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