IndyCar: The importance of the team engineering debrief


During a typical NTT IndyCar Series season, much of the winning strategy is formulated during the team debriefs. Those are the seemingly endless hours of meetings between the drivers and engineers after practice sessions and qualifications.

The engineers collect millions of bits of data from the car, then pore through that information to help determine what the car is doing right, and what needs to be corrected.

The drivers play a key role in this process by providing human feedback to the engineering staff.

These “debriefs” are often anything but “brief.” They can sometimes become a mind-numbing exercise, especially on a multi-car team such as Andretti Autosport.

That team has one-quarter of the IndyCar field with drivers Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach and Colton Herta. Andretti Autosport has an engineering alliance with Meyer Shank Racing and driver Jack Harvey.

It is important for each driver to listen to what is important and sift through the information that isn’t.

As Rossi explains, it’s a matter of “sifting through the noise.”

“It’s all how you use the information,” Rossi told “We’ve always been a big team. Ever since I’ve been part of it, it’s been a four-car effort with a fifth for Indianapolis. I never noticed a downside to that. The more information you got, if you used it appropriately and didn’t get lost in translation, it was a benefit.

“That is what you have to do with three cars, five cars or nine cars. You have to know the information you are looking for and have to filter though the noise. There is a lot of noise. There are a lot of opinions and a lot of people that have theories right or wrong. You have to know what works for you and what you need for that moment. If you can do that, it’s nothing but a benefit.

“I think the team wouldn’t take it on unless they were prepared to handle running all those cars.

“The more the merrier at Indy.”

Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay are the “old pros” of the team. That means they have sat through the most debriefs at Andretti Autosport.

“The debriefs become overwhelming because they take two hours at the end of the day,” Hunter-Reay told “There’s only so much time in the weekend to debrief over that many cars. That’s the good thing. You have so many more different channels of data to pull from and opinions to lean on. These are talented race car drivers and engineers involved, so it’s at our disposal to use it correctly.”

Veach is set to begin his third full season at Andretti Autosport. The 25-year-old from Stockdale, Ohio, works with engineer Marky Bryant. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep the focus but adding Herta’s input to the mix will provide more valuable data for the team to use.

“The debriefs already last way too long, so we’re excited for that,” Veach quipped. “Actually, I think it’ll be really good having Colton full time in all our debriefs will be really helpful. We’re just really excited. Last year was terrible, so we’ve forgotten about that already and ready to move on and have a much better year.

“Working with Mark Bryant has been awesome. The thing I like about Mark, he’s worked a lot with the younger drivers that the engineers in Indy Lights are used to. He’ll ask, ‘What’s the biggest problem and how can I make it better for you?’ It’s not, ‘This is the setup that’s quick, you’re going to run this.’

“I don’t drive like Alex. A lot of people can’t. Ryan even struggles with it and so does Colton because Alex likes to be half backwards every corner. It’s nice to have this relationship with Mark where it’s a little more self-centered on ‘let’s not think too much about what everyone else is doing. Let’s think about what you want and what you want to feel and need, we’ll beat them with our own thing.’

“I’m really looking forward to that. That’s not exactly the environment I had last year. It was very this is what the car is, you need to figure it out. And it’s like we have 40 minutes to figure it out, it’s hard to put all the pieces together.”

Jeremy Milless is Alexander Rossi’s race engineer — INDYCAR Photo

The Andretti Autosport debriefing room is jammed with six drivers and six race engineers, as well as Andretti Autosport Technical Director Eric Bretzman and Chief Operating Officer Rob Edwards.

With so much data and so many different engineering concepts, how do the participants in this forum deal with information overload?

“With great difficulty,” Bryant said. “It is a massive task. Having another driver again for this coming season is a huge task.

“It is really trying to pick out those really important things in the debrief and making sure we work together as a group to point us all in the right direction, rather than the nitty gritty details of certain things that aren’t specific to your driver that need to be portrayed. You look at how the setup has evolved over the weekend, rather than focus on every little detail.”

There are many advantages to having a multi-car operation in IndyCar. On a three-car team, such as Team Penske, each driver can work on different race setups in practice to determine which one is best for the entire team. Testing becomes more valuable because more can be accomplished simply by having more drivers and engineers.

Andretti Autosport, however, has taken multi-car teams to a new level. For years, it was a four-car operation. In 2020, Andretti Autosport, took over its partner team at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, featuring 19-year-old star Colton Herta.

By moving Herta’s team into the Andretti Autosport stable, that created five full-time entries in INDYCAR.

Another entry; another set of data.

“We all get along really well,” Herta said. “We are more similar behind closed doors than most people think. That we get along really well helps with a healthy relationship.”

As far as racing ability, each has different styles and that is what makes this collection so interesting. It’s a chance to see what may work for one driver, may not work for another.

“Some people have some strong suits in their driving where they can repeat better at other tracks,” Herta explained. “Rossi is exceptionally well at Long Beach. I was really good at COTA and Laguna Seca. Ryan is really good at Iowa. You can go through and see where these guys are really good. Through all five of our drivers, we have places where somebody is good at that track and we can leave from them.”

Rossi’s drive style is as different as any of these six drivers.

“Alex can make things work,” Bryant said. “That is very true. Sometimes, it’s about being in the right zone, the right frame of mind. Some guys are able to pull that off more often than others.”

Finding the similarities and capitalizing on the differences are key to success on any multi-car team in INDYCAR.

That is why it’s important for each driver to recognize their own strengths, weaknesses and driving style as they try to help each other perform better in a team environment.

“I think we try to help find things,” Herta explained. “Over the years working with teammates, you see patterns of what works for them and what works for you. That’s something that I enjoy. It’s something that you work towards through the years of experience. There is some stuff that is really clear that we want to do with the car and then there is other things that are not. You can see what happens to them when they do the change. If there is drastic change and you are struggling with oversteer and the drastic change is for understeer, it is something you would want to try regardless of whether it suits your driving style or not.

“I’m probably more like Ryan Hunter-Reay when it comes to driving style,” Herta continued as he described his driving style. “Marco Andretti is on a different spectrum. He likes a lot of understeer and Alex is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He likes a lot of oversteer.

“Ryan and I are more neutral. We can handle both ways but prefer a little bit of oversteer. Zack Veach is similar to Ryan and I.”

Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay talk before a qualifying session. Photo: IndyCar

When it comes to racing style, Rossi believes that all depends on the track IndyCar is competing at during the weekend.

“Sometimes, we are all pretty much on the same thing and other times we are not,” Rossi said. “We all try to learn from each other. Hopefully, we are able to use the advantage of having five cars to work with so if one car is doing well, all four of the other cars can follow suit and get into the top five.

“It’s pretty straightforward. I’ve been working with Marco and Ryan and Zach for three years now so we know the things we can take from each other and the things we can’t. Last year, Colton was involved in our team as well. These are all guys we are all pretty familiar with. Once you know a particular driver’s likes and dislikes; pros and cons, it’s pretty easy to know what you are looking for. It’s not that big of a deal at all.”

How does all of this information, though, not turn into “too much information” for these engineers to fully comprehend and formulate?

It’s a matter of getting to the point and staying on that point.

“Sometimes you apply your personal filters and pay particular information to this or that,” Marco Andretti’s engineer, Garrett Mothershead explained. “There is way more information than you can digest in a period of time. When you have a group this size and you have to get through five guys going through their debriefs, you learn to be brief. You learn to get to the point.

“There is not as much conversation because there is much more known. I don’t have to ask what springs were on Alex’s car or what Ryan was running at that point. We know that already. So, a lot of those conversation pieces are information right in front of me. Now, we get into a lot more nuances and small things.

“You can still race these things.”

Translating the data is very important. But perhaps the most important trait of all on this team is the ability to communicate that seemingly endless information for the betterment of the overall operation.

“I don’t think we have a flow of information problem,” Bryant said. “The systems we have in place for sharing and having those available for all the different cars is very open. The engineers are open with each other in terms of seeing what everybody else is doing. We try to make the cars as much the same as we can, really. There are little test ideas that pop up and we try to communicate that. They all get the same equipment.

“Generally, the setup direction moves in the direction it needs to go based on what everyone has done in practice. Sometimes, there is strength and weakness in having such a big group.

“Not everybody is going to roll out the same car, are they? When you do have a big swing like that, it comes down to the consensus of what everybody things are sensible and then each team has choices they make for themselves that make sense for that team and that driver.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Chase Sexton wins Triple Crown Anaheim 2 Supercross: Levi Kitchen unseats Jett Lawrence in 250s

Supercross Anaheim 2
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Chase Sexton won two of the three races in the Monster Energy Supercross Anaheim 2 Triple Crown, which was enough to overcome a fifth-place finish in Race 2 and give him the overall victory. It was the second Supercross win of his career.

“Super big night for me,” Sexton told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “After last weekend with that being a struggle, I just need to come out here and stop the bleeding a little bit and I did that tonight.”

Sexton suffered a crash on Lap 1 of his heat, sending him into Last Chance Qualifier. The bad gate pick put him in a difficult position to start the race and he was able to climb to only fifth at the checkers.

At Anaheim 2, three riders entered the final race of the Triple Crown in a winner-take-all scenario. Sexton, Jason Anderson and Eli Tomac each had a shot at victory. It raised the intensity level for all riders in an evening that featured a lot of comers and goers.

Jason Anderson took the early lead in Race 3, which set him up for the overall victory. Sexton stalked and passed him midway through the race and then a minor mistake late allowed Webb to slip around as well. Anderson’s 5-1-3 gave him second overall.

“I had a tough couple of rounds, getting off that Anaheim 1 crash and then last week weekend I fumbled a little bit, but I’m excited to get back on the box and start moving forward,” Anderson told Jason Thomas.

Anderson finished seventh in the first two rounds of 2023.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Ken Roczen was the model of consistency in the opening rounds and at Anaheim 2. In three races so far this year, he’s gotten progressively better each time with a fifth in A1, a fourth last week in San Deigo and a third this week.

With results of 2-3-4, he earned his first podium of the season, which lands him fourth in the standings.

“This was hard earned,” Roczen said after the race. “I completely botched the start and then to have to work my way up. I only happen on the very last lap to step up here on the podium.”

Webb’s solid second-place finish in the third race allowed him to leapfrog several riders and finish fourth overall, but a seventh in Race 1 kept him off the podium. He improved in each race in Anaheim, however, with a 7-4-2.

With a 4-6-5, Dylan Ferrandis rounded out the top five.

The intensity of the race was a little too much for Tomac.

While battling side-by-side with Webb in Race 3 at the one-third mark, Tomac jumped wide and crashed hard. He fell to 14th, doing some damage to his bike in the process. He advanced only one position in that race to 13th. His first two races, a third and second, were strong enough to give him sixth overall. He retains the points lead, but it has shrunk to a gap of only four over Sexton and Webb.

Malcolm Stewart injured late in the week and was not able to mount.

Levi Kitchen became the first rider to unseat Jett Lawrence in the Triple Crown format at Anaheim 2 and won the overall with consistency. In his three races, Kitchen finished 4-2-2 to narrowly edge the winner of the first two races.

“This whole day; this is unbelievable. I took a few good slams in practice and I was down on myself,” Kitchen told NBC Sports Jason Thomas afterward. “The first moto I got a good start and got shuffled back, then I knew I just needed to be consistent.”

Jett Lawrence saved his best for last – which wasn’t hard given the struggles he experienced in the first two races.

Despite those problems, he entered Race 3 of the Triple Crown three points behind Kitchen after suffering a pair of disappointing races by his personal measuring stick. In the first and second 250 races of the night, Lawrence hit the ground. He dropped to the final rider in the running order in Race 2 with a Lap 1 fall. But in both races, he was able to overcome his mistake and close the gap so that he had a chance to take his first Triple Crown win of his career.

Click here for full 250 West Main Results

Lawrence rode to third in Race 1 and sixth in Race 2. In the final race of the night, Lawrence did all he could. He earned the holeshot, but when Kitchen fell in behind him, Lawrence’s fate was sealed. His 3-6-1 tied him in points with Stilez Robertson, but the tiebreaker goes to the final round and his win secured second-place.

“I can definitely say Triple Crowns are not my thing,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Will Christien. “We have one more to try and fix this, so hopefully we can get that done.”

Lawrence will move into the 450 class for the Lucas Oil Motocross outdoor season and his 250 record book will be closed.

The best news for Lawrence is the other riders who entered this round in the top three had a worse night, so Lawrence leaves Anaheim with a 16-point gap on Cameron McAdoo and 17 over RJ Hampshire.

Roberston finished 6-1-3 to take the final step of the podium.

“Getting that win in the second Main meant a lot,” Roberston told Thomas. “I wish I could have done a little better in the third one, but we’re still up here on the box.”

Mitchell Oldenburg used consistency to earn fourth in the overall. He finished 5-4-6.

After missing the Main last week in San Diego, Max Vohland finished 7-8-4 to round out the top five.

RJ Hampshire set himself up as the early favorite with his Race 1 win. In Race 2, it all fell apart. He fell in the sand section and damaged his bike, finishing last in that race. The final event of the night for the 250s provided only a 13th-place finish, leaving Hampshire deep in the points.

Cameron McAdoo hard crash in qualification, which was scary news for a team that has seen three of their riders sidelined with injury. McAdoo was never quite able to get his rhythm with an 8-7-5.

2023 Race Recaps

San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Anaheim 2 coverage

Power Rankings Week 2
SuperMotocross tightens playoff schedule
Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence go two-for-two in San Diego
Results and points after San Diego
Seth Hammaker to miss 250 E season opener with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner with injury
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX