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Lead Engineer Matt Barnes Talks About ECR Engineering Plans

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Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Matt Barnes

Lead Engineer Matt Barnes Talks About ECR Engineering Plans

Tom Blattler
Ed Carpenter Racing
January 29, 2013


Matt Barnes
January 29th 2013 - Lead Engineer Matt Barnes Talks About His Team’s Off-Season Programs

QUESTION: Matt, what things did you learn as you became a lead engineer at Ed Carpenter Racing?

BARNES: It was a bit of a transition. I was sort of thrown into the lead role right at Indy. And that is the most stressful place you can start with the month of May. The one thing I did learn was how strong the team is and it’s not about one person. The whole team pulled together and everyone rallied behind me. That is something that wouldn’t happen at a lot of places. So we didn’t have immediate success. That is for sure. As the season went on, our team did get stronger. And we did score a win in the last race. But what was lost in the season a little was that we had some really good races that got away from us for one reason or another. We might have had a couple of other wins. We drove to the front at Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa. The situations didn’t work for us. Ed and the car were stronger than our results. Unfortunately, we passed the leader many times to get our lap back. If we would have been on the lead lap, we would have had a shot at the front of the field too.

QUESTION: As the season went on, did you feel more confident in yourself as the lead engineer and was it a big learning curve for you too?

BARNES: Certainly, it was learning curve for me. Whenever you are an assistant coach, assistant manager or assistant engineer, there comes to a point in time when you are ready to take the next step and move to higher position. And I felt that way for a while. So when I received that opportunity, I certainly wasn’t afraid of it. So I felt I had something to prove and approached every weekend like that. I knew it was a ‘season-long job interview’ through the season. So I didn’t worry too much about the things I couldn’t control. Just worried about the things I knew. I put in a maximum effort and, in the end, the results were good. Ed and I built a good relationship and worked well together as the season went on. And it culminated with the Fontana win. I think that proved to myself and some other people that I was capable of doing the job.

QUESTION: Did you feel that Ed was getting confident in your abilities as the season developed?

BARNES: Every driver/engineer relationship has to be developed over time. An established, “rock star” engineer takes time to work with a new driver and develop a relationship. You have to convince the driver you know what you are doing and how to understand his or her needs. Even if you have the history, you have to prove it to each person you work with. You have to have the driver’s confidence and what you are say to them. You have to understand through his words how he is feeling in the car. Likewise, the driver had to understand why the engineer is doing something to improve the car or how the end results are going to play out. We might try three different things and maybe all of them work or none of them work. But he has to be patient and believe in what we are doing.

QUESTION: During the season, Ed (Carpenter, team owner and driver) is more of the driver than a team owner. But is there a situation where you need him to think as a team owner too?

BARNES: I never felt that there was a conflict. I always dealt with Ed as the driver. I never held anything back if I felt he needed to do something. I told him what he needed to do and didn’t say, ‘Oh, I better not say that since he is the owner too.’ I know, whether Ed is being the owner or the driver, he wants us to do the best we can. I don’t ever feel I can’t say something to him about the driver or the team. I know if I made a mistake that I was ready to admit to him. Likewise, he took responsibility from his side. The off-season might be a different story. I think conflict is more within himself. As the driver, Ed wants to go as fast as he can. He wants the car as fast as it can be. But we have to make decisions on what our budget allows. So as the owner, Ed understands how we work to make the best plans of the money available. Ed, as the owner, has to draw the line to where the budget is for our team. Ed, the owner, has to deal with the realities of a budget. Every driver wants to go faster and wants an unlimited budget. But limiting that budget for a team is the owner’s responsibility.

QUESTION: Right after the final race of the season, do you formulate a plan for the off-season and a direction you work on in preparation for 2013?

BARNES: As soon as the checkered flag falls at Fontana, we begin thinking about the off-season plans. So we came back to Indy and started work immediately on our off-season program. For the first couple of weeks, I began developing a budget and then went to Ed, Derrick (Walker) and Tim (Broyles) to see what we could do for the 2013 program. We had to negotiate on what the budget would be. Then you go forward with the off-season. We were very fortunate to move right into our development mode. We didn’t have to wait to know if we were going to get a sponsor or the budget. We have all been the waiting mode before to see if the sponsor would on board for the team. The longer you wait you just can’t get everything together. So, with Fuzzy’s Vodka, we have a great sponsor to make things happen for us. We were able to do some seven-post tests in October and November and then go testing in December with the car.

QUESTION: How was it for you as a leader of your engineer department? You had to hire some people too? BARNES: It was definitely a new responsibility. But it was one that I really enjoyed. It is nice to pick the people that are around you. It is great to have a strong person next to me like Woody (Brent Harvey) in our engineering department. He is our core person in our engineering department. So to add to our staff and bring people in is a great opportunity. And we were able to get a good, young guy in Ben Siegel to come in this winter. He has experience and works well with us. We were able to scout around in the off-season for someone good to come in. It wasn’t a rush where we need someone in a week or so. We needed the right guy and we took our time finding him. We were able to pick up Ben right after the season ended and he has been a very good addition.

QUESTION: Last year was different for ECR as an all-new team with new crew, engineers and new equipment. What has this off-season been like with a solid start?

BARNES: There was a lot of uncertainty last year as we waited for an engine deal and getting the proper crew and equipment. And then when we got the Chevrolet engine deal, we didn’t know what the support would be like. This year we know what Chevy and Pratt & Miller will provide to assist us. It is a much better situation for ECR now. We have a much better view of the whole puzzle and what pieces they contribute. So we feel good about the program we have put together for 2013. It is a good opportunity for us as we know the direction we can go with to move forward.

QUESTION: You have worked with multi-car teams before and ECR has just the one car right now. Do you feel a lot pressure to get things just right with not having another team to bounce things around for extra information?

BARNES: When I came to ECR, there was a brand new IndyCar chassis with the DW-12. So I had to pretty much start from scratch. There wasn’t much to carry over from the previous car. My experiences from the past helped a little in shaping the direction we went in 2012. But it does put a lot more pressure on myself and the engineering staff as well as Ed with the one-car effort. We aren’t able to fall back on a setup that a teammate might be running or has already tried. It is more difficult on Ed because he had to sort the car out and doesn’t have the opportunity to sit down with a teammate or teammates to figure out. So that trust between Ed and myself has to be strong to develop our setups and the programs. There is no other frame of reference to go from, so he must give me his best feedback. We only have Ed for the information. It’s more difficult than a multi-car team where Ed could get others’ input. The other side of it is that we don’t have the data to compare with a teammate. We are doing our own experimenting at times. Say like Texas, we can only accomplishment a certain amount of things in a short time. Where a bigger team can have each driver try selected things and they come back to the trailer and sort them out. We just don’t have that luxury. But also, sometimes the multi-car teams don’t always work as a team too and get crossed up. It is a little idealistic that the big teams always try things that work too. Sometimes they can get lost trying too many things.

QUESTION: What is the toughest part of your job?

BARNES: For me right now, it is maximizing my time and our engineering staff’s time. We are a small group and everyone has to pull their own weight. It’s easy to get behind in your work. We don’t have the engineering staff of a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti. We are trying to develop as much work as those big teams. They have 10, 15 or 20 people in engineering. Whether you are developing the work for a four-car team or one-car team, the work is basically the same. We plan to do the same amount of testing and development work, but we are splitting it up between three people versus ten. We have to send guys off on their own to do projects that other teams would have several people on the one project. But one example last year that went well is that we had an on-track test at Mid-Ohio and a wind tunnel test on the same day at another site. Even with a small group, we were able to split up and do good work.

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