Mike Neff · Saturday August 10, 2013
For the second time this season, the Cup series heads to a road course this weekend. Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes region of New York, one of the most famous race tracks in the world, will host the Cup series for the 31st time in its history. Jamie McMurray has shown that he can be quite a threat on road courses, most likely due to his penchant for running go-karts. McMurray’s crew chief, Bono Manion, enjoys the challenge of running on road courses and has a victory at Mexico City in the Nationwide series to his credit.
Manion spent some time with Frontstretch talking about running Pocono after Indy, the challenges of turning right and left, how to handle pit stops on the only pit lane that goes the opposite direction of oval tracks, and the challenge of wheel hop.
Mike Neff: How do you feel like your weekend in Pocono turned out?
Bono Manion: There surely was a limited amount of practice thanks to choosing to start out in qualifying trim and then having the second day of practice rained out. We felt confident in our setup going into the race and were sure we’d be competitive. We started 12th and were running 11th after the early caution with our teammate Juan. We felt like we were better than some of the people around us and catching people. Unfortunately we caught some debris, ironically off of Juan’s car on our grill. We gave it a lap and the temperature climbed, so we backed up and got behind another car hoping it would come off like it usually does. Unfortunately it was a heavy piece of newer barebond that embedded itself in our grill. By the time we pitted the water temp was extremely high. Hats off to all of the people at Hendrick Motorsports for the engines they build to stay together because we really should have been out of the race early on. To battle back from last on the track after that, I thought the day was ok. It looked like we were going to run 12th and then on the late caution quite a few people took tires and left us a sitting duck on older tires. We battled hard and finished 16th. Would have been happy with a top 12 there but 16th is a little disappointing. We had an opportunity to come get tires there at the end but, statistically it shows that more people will stay out there at the end but, it is what it is. Overall the day was just ok for us.
Neff: Having Pocono right after Indy, does that help or does that hurt?
Manion: It definitely doesn’t hurt. It helps because it is the same car, the same theory, the same type of race and the same pit strategy. It is the same in a lot of aspects. We saw race winner Ryan Newman from Indy brought the same car that he used to win there. That high speed flat track fit well for a lot of parts and pieces on our truck. By no means does it hurt anything. You had a mindset for that type of setup so, what some people found to work at Indy they tried at Pocono and what didn’t work at Indy they knew wouldn’t work at Pocono. I think, with the rainout, we had some stuff we tried at Indy and, with not getting any practice, we were also able to use Indy notes to help with setup for Pocono.
Neff: Now that we head off to the Finger Lake region of New York for Watkins Glen, what do you think your biggest challenge is?
Manion: Every week and every race track holds a challenge. Turning right and left, the challenge of going both directions, along with heavy brake zones and shifting. The challenge for Watkins Glen is that it isn’t something we do every week. It is only twice a year. I really like going to road courses and I really like road racing. The challenge lies more in the driver. The shifting, the braking and the road racing package.
Neff: When we did Tech Talk for Sonoma, it was noted that the setup you use there is designed to help get drive off of the corner and that setup contributes to wheel hop. With Watkins Glen being a higher speed track, are you able to modify those settings and reduce the occurrences of wheel hop?
Manion: There are a couple of sections of Watkins Glen that are prone to wheel hop, the number one area being turn one. It is down hill, very fast, very hard braking where the backend gets very light and can start to induce wheel hop. There are a handful of differences between Watkins Glen and Sonoma. The speed, the amount of grip, the grip level at Watkins Glen is way more than we have at Sonoma. Partly because of the higher speeds, you don’t have the slow speed corner where you have a slow pace with the lower gear. High speed means faster and harder on the brakes. There are similarities too, obviously turning right and left and shifting, but the setup at Watkins Glen is quite a bit different from Sonoma. I think it is really good that we get to travel up to the New York area and do what we do. It is quite an area, there are a lot of tracks up there, dirt and asphalt, and a lot of race fans. It is a good place to go to.
Neff: NASCAR gets a little upset with you guys if you run your cars out of gas on the course during practice. Do you do any testing before you get to the road course, to know how much fuel your car can pick up, or do you have to figure that out at the track?
Manion: Absolutely we test one time this year for the road course. It is something we did there. Sometimes you have two different cells. You have the option, actually you have it every week, to move the fuel pickup. In a road course we don’t have it in the right hand corner like you do at a traditional oval track. You can go center, you can go left, you can go right, there’s no rule where you can put your fuel pickup. Obviously at an oval track you’d want it on the right. At a road course there are teams that will put it on the left and some that will put it in the center. I don’t think there will be anyone leaving it on the right for the road course. We do run it out in the test and we do know how much the car picks up. With the rules NASCAR has with fuel cells and how they are mounted in the car, and the gauges these days, and everything else, I would say everyone from the car first in points to the car 43rd in points is extremely close in capacity now with the stricter rules. The difference in mileage is the manufacturer of the engine, Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford. It seems like some races one manufacturer will have the advantage where at another race it is another manufacturer. Relatively speaking, this race will come down to a two stop or three stop strategy. The two stop strategy is, of course, on the risky side. The three stop strategy is much safer but, the bottom line is you want to call this race as a road course style race where being the first car on pit road at a point where you can make it to the end of the race so that, should a caution fly, you’ll move to the front of the pack. With that said you still have to make it on gas, it is a Catch 22 thing. You want to pit early but you want to make it to the end on gas whether it is a two stop or three stop strategy.
Neff: And you have to make sure you can survive a Green-White-Checkered.
Manion: You’re usually on your own on that one. (Laughs)
Neff: On pit stops, do you switch up your team? Some teams change the front and rear teams because the car is going the opposite direction on pit lane. Is it something you focus on or, with it only being two or three stops, you just live with what you’ve got?
Manion: That is up to your pit coach and the team. They will look at that, they’ll talk to the pit coach, they’ll look at the film, they’ll look at what other teams do. Yesterday I went out to watch pit practice to see what the guys chose to do for the last four or five practice stops. Like you said, and the same thing I told them, ‘this is only a maximum of three stops. Think about it and take your time. We don’t need an 11 second stop. We need a smooth, consistent stop. We know they’ll be a little slower.’ One of my tire changers said ‘I feel like I’m writing with my left hand and I’m right handed.’ We opted to not change front to rear. There are some teams that will do that for sure. From what we saw and what the guys decided, it would be best if the guys kept their regular position. Practice makes perfect and we harmed out a few good stops this week.
Neff: Atmospheric conditions up there seem to have a lot of humidity. Does that come into play, not just with the engine, but with the handling of the car? Do the tires perform differently when there is higher humidity?
Manion: That is a good question. I don’t think I have a good answer for it because I would have to say we don’t pay attention to that. It is more track temperature and ambient temperature. Bottom line is, I know talking to other parts of our organization, that compete in different series, do pay attention to pressure and other characteristics. I know it is something that we track with our weather station but I don’t know that we could ever pinpoint humidity being a reason why the tire would grow more or less. With using nitrogen it helps control that. It is something you could potentially look at but we don’t.
Bono returns to the Northeast, where he grew up in Massachusetts, to race in front of family and friends. He hopes to have a better run than his driver’s career average of 19th. The track and the settings in the car will help but it will ultimately come down to what the driver does with the car that Manion gives him. Watch on Sunday to see if McMurray can capitalize.
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