Synergy working for Colliver and Yacaman
It's one of the most unique relationships in sports. The relationship between a driver and race engineer has to be one of complete trust, a back-and-forth of sharing theories that are put to test in real situations every race weekend.
Firestone Indy Lights competitor Gustavo Yacaman referred to it as an investor-investee relationship. His race engineer, Mike Colliver, said maybe student-teacher or doctor-patient.
Colliver and Yacaman started working together last season at the twin Firestone Indy Lights races in Edmonton, Alberta, after Yacaman's engineer left the team. He worked for a while with Team Moore Racing principal Mark Moore, but depended on Colliver for advice throughout the transition.
"I've done the Indy car deal for 10 or 12 years, and I've done this level for about four years now," Colliver said. "So I think I have that vision where I can tell him that when he gets to the next level he might want to think about this or that. I think that at an Indy Lights level, an engineer kind of needs to be a driver coach at times, and he's not at that stage. He doesn't need me to driver coach him. Maybe a first-year guy coming into Indy Lights might need a little more. My focus is more getting him ready to go to the next level. Especially on the ovals, I think."
The two will need that focus for their race this weekend at the .875-mile Iowa Speedway oval, where Yacaman finished second last season. The Sukup 100 will take place immediately before the IZOD IndyCar Series race June 23. The race will air on NBC Sports Network that night at 10:59 p.m. (CT).
It didn't take long for Colliver and Yacaman to get into the swing of things when they began working together. Colliver learned what his driver liked from the car, and could make those adjustments to it before it even hit the track.
"Some engineers are very sensitive to what you tell them. They get offended," Yacaman said. "If a change doesn't work, a lot of them for their own ego want to try to work around it to make it work. With Mike, it's good because I can tell him something didn't work, and he'll take it off and make what's working better. We're not going to waste time trying to make something he came up with work for the hell of it, so that's good we have that communication."
Colliver has more than a decade of experience, including work with Bruno Junqueira during the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Junqueira, a friend of Yacaman's, gave nothing but positive reviews for Colliver after that experience.
"My philosophy as a race engineer is that there's a thousand ways to skin the cat, and I think I'm better suited and the driver's better suited if I massage the car and make the car more towards what he wants instead of saying, 'This is the ultimate set-up. You need to figure out how to drive it this way,' " Colliver said. "And I think there's a fair amount of engineers out there that believe, 'This is the car. You need to learn how to drive it.' I've never been a believer in that."
Together, the No. 2 TMR‐Tuvacol‐Xtreme Coil Drilling car has finished in the top 10 in every race this season, including three top-five finishes highlighted by a win in Detroit and a pole at Indianapolis. This season marks his fourth in Firestone Indy Lights, more than any other driver in the series.
After an offseason where Yacaman contemplated taking that next step to the IZOD IndyCar Series, he instead landed again with Team Moore Racing, which also runs the No. 22 car of David Ostella. Though the medium-sized team does not have the resources of a Sam Schmidt Motorsports or Andretti Autosport, the group stands out in its own way with consistent results and the experience of two veteran drivers.
"I think (Gustavo) could run in (the IZOD) IndyCar (Series) right now, but I think we all discussed during the offseason when he decided to come back to Lights that it was a great decision," Colliver said. "A lot of people forget that he just turned 21, and even though this is his fourth year, people think he should be up in IndyCar, well at the end of the day, you're better off to come back here because you're just getting to the point where you're running in the top three or four every weekend and you're going to get the mentality every weekend that I'm going to go there to win.
"And once you learn that and get a taste of it, then that's what you're going to want to do in the next level when you're ready to do it."