We all know how dreadfully long the INDYCAR off-season can be. Fortunately, cars will return to the track next week at Sebring for testing as we prepare for the 2013 season, which is just around the corner.
Race teams are in their shops gearing up for the long and busy road ahead. I was fortunate enough to witness a small part of that this past week after a member of the Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (and very close friend) invited me to visit the team’s shop for a tour.
Upon arrival, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the walls. The team got the floor plans from IMS for the original green and white garages in Gasoline Alley and built everything, including working doors and windows that house some of their offices.
On top of the old Gasoline Alley-style walls are eight classic Dreyer & Reinbold cars. They are cleaned daily and kept in pristine condition. On the second level is a furnished kitchen and a media center where the team can watch film. There is also a place for Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl to stay when they are in town.
On the floor, they had most everything laid out for their DW12, as well as one of their old Dallara cars that was being transitioned into a show car. On the DW12 cockpit, it was very easy to spot the new carbon fiber extenders on either side. These were designed to better protect the drivers on side impacts like the one Sebastien Bourdais suffered last year in Sonoma.
The race calendar at the shop is very detailed. It covers everything from cleaning up the shop to race day events. One of the most interesting parts was the transition from the São Paulo race back to Indianapolis. They don’t expect to have the car and crew back from Brazil until May 8, and they are set to arrive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two days later on May 10. That gives them somewhere between 48 and 72 hours to transition the car from the street setup to the Superspeedway setup for Indy.
The original shop is massive, but they have also added onto it. In one section of the building, they have a car set up where they can practice pit stops. Even though this is done with an older Dallara, they have the rear wheel brackets mounted for the guys changing the back tires. My tour guide said the brackets they have on might stick out a little further than the actual ones on the DW12, but that actually helps the tire changers improve their accuracy during race-time pit stops.
The front and rear wings for 2013 were assembled and being prepared for painting, and there were three sets of rear wheel guards ready to go. The rule book for this year requires the numbers on the cars to be increased by an inch to a minimum height of eight inches.
With so many different sponsors this year, there will a lot of painting going on in the next few days. The Valspar bay where everything gets painted was being used while I was there. The bay and everything inside all were from Valspar, a great sponsor to have.
The two haulers were staged in the back area. They will be departing for Sebring shortly for their first day of testing on February 19.
Everyone at Panther DRR knows they have the tools and resources for success. At Indianapolis last year, Servia brought home a fourth-place finish for the team. The pit crew also nearly won the Pit Stop Challenge at Indy after making it all the way to the finals against Scott Dixon’s crew. Last month, the team announced that long-time open wheel engineer Tino Belli has signed on as Technical Director. He arrives after a 14-year stint at Andretti Autosport where he was part of four IndyCar championship seasons and two Indianapolis 500 wins.
The partnership between Panther Racing and Panther/DRR will be much stronger this year. The teams will work more closely together in a collaborative effort, which should produce the results both teams are looking for. Things were quiet during my visit, but that certainly won’t be the case once the season officially begins.
Sincere thanks to our friends at Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for facilitating the shop tour and allowing us to prepare this article and the associated photos.