Like most racers, I’m always looking to improve. How can I make the car faster? How can I go flat over the bypass? How can I stop eating so much junk food? I try to learn from teams around me, and mostly from teams who happen to be in front of me. Recently I decided to kick things up to the next level and learn from the professional ranks. I wanted to see how teams who compete for a living take on the details of racing.
That led me to Bobby Oregel, owner of PR1 Motorsports based in Central California. Bobby was a professional go-kart racer for Tony Kart in the mid-90s. He took what he learned as a pro driver and created a business model for young drivers to move up through the racing ranks from go-karts, to Formula 1600, to Formula 2000 and on to American Le Mans, which is now the Tudor series. PR1 Motorsports has been successful in the driver coaching/development business and in the professional racing business, with wins last year in the ALMS PC class at Petit Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring.
“That was one of our greatest achievements,” said Oregel. “Because we won that race without a single paid professional driver in our lineup.”
PR1 Motorsports and team driver Michael Guasch, owner of Molecule driving suit cleaner, won the 2013 ALMS PC Championship. I had the opportunity to cruise around the PR1 Motorsports shop and see some of the tricks used by professional racing teams. While I looked around snapping photos, Oregel and I talked racing and what makes his team successful.
According to Oregel, one of the most important things about his crew of nine full time employees is cross training. Everyone on his team can do 95 percent of the jobs on his team. If one person is out, or busy with something else, another person can easily step in seamlessly because they all have the correct skills. And there is no job that is beneath anyone on the team. The team’s engineer helps put up the canopy. To get the prototype car to the 24 Hours of Daytona, Oregel himself jumps behind the wheel of the team’s transporter and drives all night. “Everyone on this team knows, if your task is done, find something else that needs to be done and do it. Even if that task is cleaning the toilet.”
Even though all of PR1 Motorsports members can do each other’s jobs, they do have assigned tasks during a race weekend. Regardless of responsibilities assigned, the team has an open book policy.
“When the car comes in off of the track, we have people who are assigned to handle certain portions,” Oregel said. “For example, one person is in charge of the front of the car, and one person is assigned to the back of the car. If anyone has a suggestion or sees something that needs to be changed for fixed, bring it up. We want to know everything. There are no white shirt team managers here at PR1 Motorsports. Everyone gets their hands dirty.”
PR1 Motorsports shop is clean. Really clean. The first thing the team does with any of their cars after a race is hand wash it with Simple Green and get every component of the car clean.
“In order to find a problem, you have to be able to see a problem. If the car is dirty, you may never know it.” The team doesn’t use pressure washers, just a brush and elbow grease. Once the car is clean they check every nut and bolt for torque.
PR1 Motorsports has a spreadsheet that tracks every single part of a car by mileage. Each of the car’s parts are numbered and the spreadsheet meticulously keeps track of how long a ring and pinion gear have been in a car or how long it has been since the gear oil has been changed. “The spreadsheet is only as good as the person who takes the time to enter the information,” warns Oregel.
PR1 Motorsports is very particular about its tires. And the team isn’t just particular about the obvious stuff like tire pressure. They are particular about tire temperature. If one of their spare tires is sitting in the sun, then all of their spare tires should be sitting in the sun. They even built their own device to measure the spring rate of a mounted tire, which they match to other tires with similar readings before putting them on a car. All of their tires have been purged and filled with nitrogen. They use foil tape to hold down their wheel weights since foam or duct tape won’t hold up to the extreme heat brakes create during a race. The foil tape isn’t anything technical, they get it from Home Depot.
They attack weight in every way possible using these three criteria for priority: 1) rotational mass; 2) unsprung weight; 3) height of the weight. They machine everything to the maximum to try to lose weight. They look at every fastener, “Could we use titanium, or could we use aluminum here?” They even consider running less water in the engine block. They have switched from paint to vinyl to cover the cars because the vinyl is smooth and light.
PR1 Motorsports has done a fair amount of testing with different fluids. After all of those results, what they use in their Formula 1600 and Formula 2000 cars is simply, “Mobil 1 synthetic 10W-30 from Walmart.” You can’t argue with a good bargain.
They use SFI 45.2 foam seat kits. Each seat is custom made with a thick garbage bag and the two part SFI foam kit to form to the driver’s body and to the car. The foam is crash absorbing, lightweight and flame retardant. Each of their drivers has his own custom seat insert to make certain they fit well in the car and to ensure they are safe in a collision.
According to Oregel, the reason Michael Guasch is the 2013 ALMS PC Champion is because he wanted it more than any other person. “He was dedicated. He would be up at 6 a.m. and be in a driving simulator. The gym he built to keep himself in shape was second to none. Michael was hardcore.”
Even though PR1 Motorsports is a professional racing team, and crew members are employees, people are on the team because they want to be on the team.
“Our newest team member has been on the team for three years. Our second newest member has been on the team for nine years.” According to Oregel, “They do this because they love it. Not for a pay check.” The team’s headquarters has remnants of past victories everywhere. Even on top of the refrigerator in the lunch lounge there are trophies and empty champagne bottles signed by drivers.
Looking at the sheer mass of trophies earned by PR1 over the last decade made me realize I could learn a lot from a professional racing team. Next time you are cruising around the paddock at a professional event, take a look around. You never know what little trick you might pick up from the big boys of racing. It might equal the tenth of a second you need to make it onto the podium. All my cars will have Home Depot foil tape on the wheel weights from now on. Thank you PR1 Motorsports.