Penske's Travis Geisler on NextGen ROVAL Test

Geisler speaking in the Media Center

NASCAR completed a two-day Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway and as part of that, Travis Geiser, NASCAR competitiondirector for Team Penske, answered some questions from members of the media on Tuesday afternoon. Here is a transcript of that session.

TRAVIS GEISLER, NASCAR Competition Director, Team Penske -- HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS THIS TEST AND THE WAY IT HAS GONE FOR YOUR TEAM?  “I think overall there were certainly some teething pains yesterday (Monday) to get started.  I think as a team we’ve only tested Daytona with a single car.  This is the first time we’ve been with a couple of drivers at one time going, so just the pace of things picking up.  The intensity level of these tests just continues to ratchet up as we go.  I think we attended some of the early ones with RCR and it was an amicable test I would say with everybody working together.  I think now we’re starting to get to the point where we know we’re gonna be racing each other with these things so it’s starting to get a little bit different.  You start drawing some different lines on what you share and what you don’t with other companies because it’s starting to become competitive.  As far as the test itself, I think the extra time has definitely been appreciated.  They moved the schedule.  This is probably one of the longer tests we’ve really ever done, especially recently.  We haven’t done a whole lot of testing, so even just teams getting used to going and testing again is different.  We haven’t done a lot of it and certainly haven’t done it at this pace where we’re 7-9 two days in a row and that whole thing, so it’s been an adjustment there.  The car itself, I think, a lot of what we expected.  The braking zones are incredible.  If you watch where they are with their markers or where they are for pit road entries it looks like they’re gonna miss pit road entry and I think the braking potential of the car is still a surprise to everybody.  Even knowing it’s gonna be a lot better it’s been pretty impressive, especially with being able to compare, like you said, to road course cars from just the day before and being able to jump in these.  Otherwise, I think we’ve worked through some of our issues.  There were certainly some things we needed to learn, some things that probably as an industry we’re still learning and feel a lot better about the pace of our testing today.  We’ve been able to get a lot more runs in.  People are starting to figure out how to work on the thing a little bit.  It’s definitely a challenge.  It’s a lot more like a street car as far as the changes.  It seems like you’ve got to take 10 things off to get to one, but now I think everybody is starting to figure out how to get around.  What are the work flows?  What are the work paths?  It’s just a lot of things where everybody was so programmed for so long on what to do and now we’re starting over.”

WHAT IS THE COLLABORATIVE PROCESS BETWEEN TEAM PENSKE AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS?  “There are definitely some separate paths depending on what the problem is.  Some of them you feel like are maybe you identify them as internal and you say, ‘OK, this is something we have to fix,’ and then there are some that are OEM related where we’ll join in with Roush and Stewart-Haas and kind of talk through like, ‘Hey, from a Ford perspective, how do we address this problem?  How do we handle this?’  And then there are ones that are kind of industry wide where it doesn’t matter who you are, what team you’re on, we’re talking to you about it.  ‘What do we see here?’  There are parts that are just the way they are and there’s maybe an issue with them that is vendor related and at that point we all need to share because I think we understand the importance of having a unanimous vote on something.  If we feel like something needs to be changed, one team going at it or one OEM is always gonna be perceived as some collusion in the deal, so you’ve got to get consensus amongst the groups and I think we know when we need a change if we go to JGR or we go to Hendrick and they agree with us and we go to NASCAR, it’s a very strong, weighted position at that point because they know we’re only gonna rely on things that are beneficial for the whole group.  And that goes not only to vendor parts, issues, things like that, but also probably some of the more important things to work out for us is just how we’re gonna race the car?  How is it gonna be inspected?  How are we gonna handle what parts we can run?  What parts we can’t?  How will we run them?  Those things are still really up in the air, to be honest, and I think those are the conversations that are starting to maybe move to the top of the pot that’s bubbling because it’s how we’re gonna race it.”

WHERE ARE YOU ON THE STEERING ISSUE?  “I think it’s something that we’ve definitely had conversations with other manufacturers’ cars, other people around, some of the learnings.  Some of our issues yesterday were really addressed with just kind of an assembly process change.  It wasn’t necessarily a part that needed to change.  There’s still some, I think it’s kind of a 1 out of 10 now on some of the issues that we’re fighting that I think are a little more inherent to the system and sometimes you end up with that.  There are compromises in the world and you don’t get to have everything all the time despite how race car drivers like to be.  That’s the way it goes and I think we’re starting to iterate towards what the compromise is gonna be and how to convince people that we’re gonna have to work with this.  I think there’s a pretty good collaboration when it’s really an issue that’s like a show stopper or safety.  It’s very quickly we all work together and then when it comes down to how we’re putting things together and how we’re doing things, that probably falls closer back to OEM related and then there’s kind of the last line of things, which you really feel like are gonna separate you and I think that’s, to be honest, we’re all still working out a little bit in our minds -- what’s gonna separate us team to team?  Right now, it’s our chassis, it’s our this and that.  There’s a whole long list of items and now we’re all starting to try and figure out, ‘OK, what is really gonna separate us from the other cars?’  We’re working through that right now.”

HOW IS THE DATA IMPACTED IF THEY GO TO AIR DUCTS IN THE WINDSHIELD?  HOW MUCH OF WHAT YOU’RE GATHERING TODAY IS GOING TO BE WORTHWHILE AND HOW MUCH WILL BE SOMEWHAT HELPFUL BUT NOT TOTALLY?  “I think it’s such early days that that level of refinement is still OK to be changing.  When you look at some of the ducts in the windows or weather the exhaust is coming out at the back of the door or the front of the door those things are all items that, yeah, sure it would be great to say that this thing is 100 percent finished, we’re ready to go, this is a finished product, but I think that when we look through the changes that are coming from the suspension standpoint it seems like all of our stiffnesses, the way the car operates in a normal situation are probably gonna remain the same.  Crash reaction is very different, but hopefully we’re not practicing that today, so I think in general they’re gonna be pretty minor to us and the learnings that we’re going through right now we’re really on the big knob.  We’re not down to the little knob yet.  If it was our current day car and you were telling us we were gonna change this, it would be a big deal to us because we’re so refined on everything, but at this point I’d call it a rough draft.  We just got past the outline.  We’re on the rough draft now, so changing some grammar in there probably doesn’t really matter to us, but down the road, once you’ve got final copy, it’s pretty frustrating to go back and do that.  So, we’d rather work through it now, get it over with and come out with a product at the beginning of the year that we can run with for the rest of the season.”

IS HAVING A ROUGH DRAFT FOUR MONTHS BEFORE YOU GO RACING A GOOD TIMELINE?  “It’s racing.  That’s what we do.  I don’t know.  Timelines are for big business.  We’re racing.  They can tell us within a week, within a month, whatever it is the key to it in my opinion is we all know it, we all have the same timeline and we all react to it and it’s no different than when they threw the dirt race at us or they call CMS or whatever it is, to me that’s what keeps our industry fun and different than the regular world, where you’ve got to look out 18 months.  I talk to the OEMs and they’re doing model changes for three years from now.  I don’t want to think about three years from now.  That’s way too far down the road, so I think it’s part of what challenges our sport.  There are some inefficiencies that come along with that and that’s always a negative and we always try to minimize those inefficiencies -- wasted parts, wasted time, wasted energies -- but at the end of the day the product is an entertainment product for our fans and we’re supposed to put on the best race we can, and whether we have to change some parts and pieces along the way that’s our job to figure out how to make it work.”

CAN YOU EXPAND ON THE BRAKING CAPABILITY?  HOW DOES IT HELP TEAMS?  “I think it definitely helps us a lot from just kind of being at limit.  There are definitely some places where we were at limit for braking potential and cooling capacity and some of those things.  We were down to where brake ducts are dragging the rims.  We’re squeezing every bit that we can.  We’re doing all of this crazy CFD to try to get better air flow to it and we’re here today with like very minimal cooling.  It’s fine, so I think the level that you have to refine your cooling systems to and some of those things are probably just easier now.  The box is a little wider, which I think is helpful in that you don’t have to go to that level.  I kind of like to make things hard sometimes because that’s kind of what separates things, but I think from a setup perspective it’s actually created some challenges that we didn’t expect, which there’s so much braking potential that before I feel like you were limited mechanically by how much brake power you had.  Now, it’s really down to car setup, tire grip, what you’re going through cambers, what you’re going through toes to be able to get the car stable enough to handle that much deceleration because the brakes are fine.  They’ve got plenty of extra if they’re really limited by traction, where a lot of times in our current car I feel like we were limited by just mechanical ability.  You just hammer the pedal as hard as they could and it’s just what it was where now you can lock a wheel as quickly as you want because there’s just a ton of power there.”

WITH PENSKE GETTING BACK IN IMSA IN A COUPLE OF YEARS ARE YOU GUYS LOOKING AT HAVING MORE NASCAR DRIVERS ROTATE THROUGH WITH THAT BECAUSE OF THIS?  “That question is for somebody way farther up the food chain than me.  I’m happy to get those guys as much seat time as we can get them, so I would definitely vote to keep them racing.  I think it’s interesting.  You think of these guys and how much time they spend in the car at the Cup level, but Joey came to us, it’s been a little while back now, but he came to us with basically how much time he used to spend in the car on a weekly basis when he was running Xfinity, he was doing Cup practices, he was doing Xfinity practices, two qualifying sessions.  That’s a lot of seat time and when you look at the amount of hours that he’s actually in a vehicle now, I think there’s no question people have looked at guys like Kyle Larson who are out just running the wheels off everything they can get in, and we’ve got to think about this is a skill just like any other skill in the world and you get better at it the more you do it.  No matter how good you get, there’s still a requirement to continue to go practice your craft, so even if the craft doesn’t necessarily exactly mimic what you’re doing here, you’re still learning car control.  The reason why these guys can go race other places and can usually run up front is because they just develop their skill sets and being able to leverage some of our other racing platforms to allow our drivers to continue to develop, I think, would be a great asset.  It’s something I would definitely be excited about.”

SO IF ROGER AND CINDRIC SAID YES, YOU WOULD BE IN FAVOR OF GETTING THESE GUYS MORE SEAT TIME?  “If they say, yes.  I’ll just go with them.  They ask me what I think it’s done.  That’s how that works, but I would definitely be excited about it.  I think it’s a great part of working for somewhere like Team Penske, where you have people from all disciplines of racing.  I got to go stand on pit road at the Indy road course and kind of shadow the team for the weekend.  I got to hang out with Joseph and those guys and just watching how they operate, being able to kind of embed with a team that runs at that level in a different series is just a huge advantage for me.  I have to be honest, it’s a little embarrassing but that’s the first Indy Car race I’d ever been to, period.  They keep me kind of busy on weekends, but it was great to be able to go to that and I think as a company it was a great vision to put everybody under one roof, but I think it’s taken a long time to really get everybody to kind of pull together and now I feel like our vehicles are really starting to mimic each other and this is the same transaxle that was run in different series that we’re in -- a lot of the same things, and now we can kind of lean on each other a little more and I think that was the vision a while ago.  I don’t know that they envisioned this much car change, but I think from a people standpoint it’s been really great to kind of just get pulled tighter and tighter together by the technology that we’re using to go racing.”

IS IT POSSIBLE TO CHANGE OUT A REAR SECTION IF YOU CRASH IN PRACTICE WITH THE WAY THESE CARS ARE BUILT OR NOT?  “That’s a great question. I think we’re still working through how that’s gonna work.  I feel like there are some conversations that still are left to be had with NASCAR to decide.  What are our backup car rules and how we all want to do that, and I think that will start to dictate what you do, but certainly when you look at other forms of motorsports that more modular like this, they bring cars in sections rather than complete cars, and I think most likely for us it would be a combination, where you might bring one that’s kind of a full-kitted out, ready to go car, and then you bring some sections.  Instead of bringing four backup cars fully prepared like we used to do, we’re already down to no engines -- normal racing where we have practice -- but then going into next year you look at it and say, ‘We really don’t need four complete cars.’  It’s probably one, maybe two complete ones, probably one complete and then modular stuff from there that we could put something back together, but it’s probably -- to get a real comfort level to be on the west coast without cars put together for backups where you know you’re not getting any help from home, i think we’re probably gonna have to crash a few and take them home and try to rebuild them as a modular kit and see, can we do this at the racetrack?  How long would this take us to pull off?”

THE PRECISION YOU COULD GET AT THE SHOP.  “Exactly right, and I think understanding how the car is gonna be inspected from an aero tolerances, how much that matters to performance.  Maybe somewhere like Phoenix you’re probably a little more OK with it than somewhere like Daytona, just to look at those as probably being prepared a little differently for how you have your backup cars.”

AS AN ORGANIZATION HOW DO YOU SHIFT PERSONNEL WITH A LOT OF THESE PARTS AND PIECES COMING FROM VENDORS OR WILL YOU HAVE TO DOWNSIZE IN SOME WAYS?  “There’s certainly a redistribution of work flow.  The guys who are in the chassis shop, it’s probably obvious that they aren’t gonna be building chassis, but I think there are a lot of people with a lot of different skill sets and we are really fortunate to be kind of ramping up on one side of our business with, as you mentioned, the sports car involvement, so there are some future paths there.  I think that’s kind of another one of the strengths of Team Penske is being able to move talent where it’s needed when it’s available, and I think now we have some spots where we need to fill some, so it’s been very good for us to kind of all work together and look over our people and say, ‘OK, we can try to redistribute where we are.’  We still have people that work for us on the NASCAR side that worked for IROC way back when up in Redding, and when that shut down they had the option to come work for Team Penske.  They had to move, but at least they could still work for a race team and they’re still with us today, and I think that mentality is what we’ll carry into this and we’ll try to keep everybody that we can.  There certainly probably will be some efficiencies that the numbers don’t all the way line up and that’s an unfortunate situation, but I think it’s an efficiency of the world.  Typewriter salesmen are probably struggling right now.  There aren’t many of them left.  That’s just the way it goes.  The way racing is going, it’s probably a lot of the same.”

HOW DO YOU COMPETE AGAINST THE OTHER TEAMS IN THIS ROUND WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE ON PAPER YOU ARE AT A DISADVANTAGE?  “I think anybody would look at the whole season and say that we probably were at a bit of a deficit and not the cars to beat every weekend, where we would want to be, so I think that’s a very fair statement.  I think we understand where we are.  I think we also look at it as we have some really experienced, veteran people that have gotten through playoff situations and there’s a lot of crazy stuff that goes on and I would look at how we’ve executed to this point and I’m really impressed with how our teams have done.  I haven’t gone and looked, I’ve been a little bit busy here, but I wanted to look at where we were from a points scored during that last round because I feel like, certainly Joey, is on the higher end of scoring points each round and our teams have been able to advance each round.  As we look at the next round, I like where we are.  We’re the only company with all of our cars in the playoffs right now.  I’m proud of that.  We’ve just got to keep digging.  That’s the fun part about the playoffs.  You never know when somebody is gonna stick it in the turn one barrier.  You never know when somebody is gonna turn somebody around.  We’ve done a good job of keeping ourselves out of that because I really don’t feel like we’ve been the ones anybody is focused on.  Nobody really feels like we’re the ones that are gonna come out and be the challengers for this thing, but I think that’s also how we kind of got it done with Joey when we did.  There was the big three and me program and nobody believed that Joey really had a shot at it and that’s OK.  We’re fine being a little bit understated, but we know there’s a lot of hard work to do, too.  These next three races have to be perfect for us.  We’re not gonna be able to make mistakes and recover with just pure speed.  We’re gonna have to execute perfectly.”

HOW HAS THIS TESTING ENVIRONMENT BEEN WITH OTHER ORGANIZATIONS?  “As far as the collaboration goes, I would say that over the past probably six to eight years we’ve just been creeping along the collaboration train.  The first time, I can remember going to some of the first meetings where there were multiple teams in the room at the same time with NASCAR.  That was a big deal.  Before that, I always felt like it was NASCAR would meet with one team and they’d kind of get their story and they’d go through all of us and then they’d maybe pick and choose where they wanted to be.  I don’t know.  But now it’s much more of everybody sitting in a room together and really kind of pushing each other with some of the tough questions because it’s not easy.  Collaborating on a project like this there’s always gonna be a lot of different opinions.  One thing about people in racing is they all have very strong opinions and most of them are pretty Type A and don’t like to compromise a whole lot, so those meetings get a little tough at times, but I think the process has been pretty healthy and I think there’s probably never been this level of collaboration in the sport.  It’s really gonna be necessary for the next phase of this car as we unfold it for it continue to grow because, just like we’ve talked about, some of the problems or challenges we need to solve these together.  As far as the testing goes, getting prepared for it, I would say we haven’t seen that level of activity or energy or whatever you want to call it in our shop in years.  I think COVID certainly took a whole lot of energy out of the shops just because not practicing, not doing backup cars.  We were on split shifts for a while.  We had less people in the building.  There were just all those feelings of kind of like just not the energy that you’re used to and when we were getting our cars ready to come here, we’re getting ready for playoff races, we’re at a cutoff race, we know we had a whole ton of testing coming up here, it was like every hand came out of the woodwork again and everybody was working.  There wasn’t the four o’clock 500 out the door.  It was, ‘let’s keep digging and figure out how to get this thing together.’  Some real challenges crop up as you’re putting stuff together for the first time, so I think that was pretty fun for me to see.  It’s nice to see the group kind of get back to that level of intensity.  That’s what makes it fun.  Otherwise, you may as well just go work at a normal job and just grind out your eight and go home.  That’s not what any of us signed up for.  The pace of things here, I would say yesterday excruciatingly slow, like so frustrating for all of us.  You just want to go and we’re really used to our practices being able to run, we’ve run 8-10 runs by lunch time and that was normal.  You’d come in, two shocks, two springs, go back out, come back in.  It was just like everybody was on their game.  Yesterday it was like, ‘This is ridiculous.  We can’t get in and out.  We can’t make changes,’ and everybody it was like you could just feel the tension building because it’s like, ‘We’re not really too fast.  We’re not really too good.  We can’t get this figured out.’  Like everybody has that anxiety raised because it’s like, ‘This is our first real go and it’s not going the way we want it to.’  And then you get to a spot where it’s like, OK, everybody just takes a deep breath and you kind of start to fix a few little problems along the way and you build some momentum back up, and then we show up this morning and we’re 1-2-3 on the board and it’s like, ‘OK.  We got our feet back under us here and let’s just work through our day.’  So far, we’ve had a really smooth day mechanically.  The cars have just been running.  The guys are starting to figure out how to make their changes faster and it’s simple stuff.  I mean, when you go to dive into a project what wrenches do you take with you?  The guys don’t even know that yet and they’re used to being like in their sleep they can tell you the eight things they’re gonna go grab out of their toolbox, where they are in the toolbox and they’re gonna go make the change and they’re not even gonna think about it.  And now it’s like everything is an effort.  Everybody is banging into each other because they don’t know where to go to get in to help.  It seems stupid, but that’s the choreography of our practices and how that works.  Everybody sees how these road crews operate and why they can change an alternator on pit road in two-and-a-half minutes and it takes six hours when you take it to the dealership.  There’s a reason and it takes time to develop that and we don’t have that yet.  You’ve got a bunch of really high level people and I look at it like taking NFL players and asking them to go play tennis.  They’re gonna be frustrated getting started because they’re gonna suck at it, but we’ve made a lot of progress on that already and it’s fun to watch that for me because the guys just keep picking it up faster and faster.  I say guys, but we have girls there too.  I apologize for not including both, but we’ve got Andrea in there who has been an engineer for us for a long time and it’s great to have the perspectives of everybody and bringing it to the table and it’s fun to have something new to work on.”

HOW MUCH ARE YOU LOOKING AT TIMES RIGHT NOW?  “You can’t help but look at it.  Even though you know it really doesn’t matter and everybody is on different agendas.  You can try to convince yourself that, ‘well, we’re not going for speed right now.’  Everybody is looking at where they are.  It’s inevitable.  That’s the measuring stick.  There may be individual runs that you throw away because you’re trying something, but you know at the end of the day you can’t leave here at the bottom of the sheet and feel good about it.  That’s just the way it goes.  We’re programmed to be top left on the board and if you’re not there, it doesn’t feel very good.  So, I think, times matter no matter where we are or when we are.  If we’re racing wheelbarrows, we’d be looking at lap times.”

HOW MUCH MORE CRASH DATA DO YOU WANT TO SEE FROM NASCAR?  “That’s an interesting question.  It’s a little bit of a challenge for us to understand where the team’s place is in this because it’s not really a place we’ve been super involved in the past from like the genesis.  It was such an interactive process before that we knew how things wrecked.  We knew what went on and we kind of would help with, ‘Hey, we wrecked this way and this happened. Let’s work on this area.’  This is a whole new thing that is hard for us to understand.  We’re not doctors.  We’re not crash test scientists.  I mean, there are people who spend their lives figuring that stuff out, so we have to trust that everybody is doing their part on it.  There’s reasons that changes are being made and we understand and can kind of see why they’re being made.  From here, I think it is our responsibility to keep our drivers safe and we have to continue to work with NASCAR to understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.  Certainly, another crash test seems like it would be a very prudent thing to do, which I understand is going to occur, and I think we all will feel more comfortable just knowing a little more, but the reality is you can’t crash test the 15 million different directions that we’re gonna hit with this car.  Every crazy angle.  Jeff Fuller at Kentucky hitting on the infield wall.  Things like that that just happen that you just can’t draw that up in any simulation, but we trust the vehicle is where it needs to be and that’s kind of where it ends up.  Racing, at the end of the day,unfortunately is still a dangerous sport.  We’re very fortunate that ours has become much less dangerous and I feel very comfortable working in NASCAR and knowing these drivers very closely and knowing their families and knowing they’re in the safest cars we can build for them.”


John Davison

Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.

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Volume 2021, Issue 10, Posted 12:04 PM, 10.13.2021