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What it takes to be an ALMS Team Manager

ALMS
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

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The Audi team at LeMans
Battery Tender recently announced a "Mechanic of the Year" prize that will award five crew members with $5,000 each at the end of the season. But the awards don’t apply simply to "mechanics"; the award is available to any member of a race team in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patr¢n. This includes everyone from the tire changers to the truck driver to the engineers.

An ALMS team can have anywhere from 10-50 highly specialized members, often divided into the full-time crew and the "fly-in" (a.k.a. weekend) crew, and then further divided by car if there are multiple vehicles. Who do all these people look to for direction, approval and their boarding passes? The team manager.

Dyson Racing’s team manager, Michael White jokingly compares his job to that of a ringmaster.

"You have to be conscious of everything going on throughout the course of the day and what’s coming up in the days to come and try to keep the circus under the big top," he said.

A team manager makes sure the right people are assigned the right roles and that everyone has what they need to do their jobs. The race car, transporter and crew don’t make it to the track without the team manager’s schedule, budget and instructions. The team won’t even make it on the entry list without the right paperwork!

"From the start of the year you have to assemble a team," summarized Jaguar RSR`s John Gentilozzi. "You have to keep everyone on task and going in the right direction; you have to be sure that everything is prepared and you’ve ordered all your fuel and equipment; you have to keep in touch with the series and make sure your paperwork is all filled out; and then you get to the track and at any given time deal with what occurs.

"It’s a huge, huge job and it’s a very thankless position for sure," adds Gentilozzi. "You’re not going to make a change to the car that’s going to make it win or lose, but you certainly would have set the systems in place that allow you to perform."

Maybe that’s why Gentilozzi handed over the Team Manager reigns to Gary Penission this year. The job may come with a wealth of responsibility but as Penission explains, being involved in every aspect of the team’s operation makes the rewards that much greater.

"The best is being part of the team," said Penission, who’s worked in open-wheel and sports cars. "Being the guy that everyone looks to, to get information from. They lean on me for experience. I like looking back on how far I’ve come and now bringing up the younger kids. Teaching them how to get into racing and see where they go."

Speaking of how to get involved in racing, how does one become a team manager?

"Frankly, it’s something I fell into," explained White. "I started out in the industry. I had the opportunity to get involved on a club level and it snowballed from there. It was a weekend deal that turned into a part-time, paying deal that turned into a full-time deal."

Morgan Brady worked as a team manager in support series before making the move into ALMS this season with CORE autosport in LMPC.

"I have an engineering background," Brady said. "I have an Undergrad in mechanical engineering and a Master’s in engineering as well. I like to be involved on the engineering side."

A Master’s Degree in engineering doesn’t give Brady the leeway to pass on the less glamorous aspects of the job, like coordinating travel or filling in for missing team members, which many managers list as their least favorite tasks.

Corvette team manager Gary Pratt shares another of the less desirable projects on his list.

"Packing up after a long, hard weekend," Pratt said. "The worst part is if you crash the car and now you’re not taking things home in one piece."

Aside from packing up, race day is actually the least hectic day for the team manager. If he or she has done the job right, all that’s needed is a couple of morning meetings and then the day is in the hands of the drivers and crew. The offseason and time in between races is often when the really busy work is done.

"For testing, I’m working with the different tracks," Pratt said of the time spent between races. "That’s a big thing - knowing what’s going on as soon as you can because track days are gone in a hurry. I’m working with the sanctioning bodies, which has become more engineering driven, so a lot of the engineers help with that. There’s a lot of personnel, logistics, working with the ACO and IMSA and ALMS. In our case, we build our cars at the shop, so there’s a lot of coordination between the manufacturing side and the race team. That’s at home, where I spend a lot of time."

With so many things to keep on top of all season, a team manager seems more than worthy of the Battery Tender Mechanic of the Year Award. But, by nature, a team manager is reluctant to pick an MVP from their pack, let alone take credit for his or her own contributions.

"Everybody is important," Brady stated. "Whether it’s the guy that drives the truck to the track, because if he’s not there, we’re not going racing, or the guy that does the tires, because one mistake could cost us time. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. In our group everybody has a role and everybody is important."

It will be hard to select just five individuals, but those who earn the "Mechanic of the Year" title will be honored at the Night of Champions ceremony, following the 14th Annual Petit Le Mans powered by MAZDA.

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