In the world of motorsport, speed is everything. But we forget that races are sometimes won or lost when cars are completely motionless, in the heat of the pit lane, at the mercy of time and mechanics. Pit stops aren’t just a chance to refuel or change tires or fix a broken wing. They can define, often dramatically, the outcome of a race. This is especially true in the Indy 500. The ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ sees drivers pushing their cars to the limit around a 2.5-mile oval track.
But what happens in that tiny window of time between the pit lane entry and exit? How does an Indy 500 pit stop work? As the Official Timekeeper of the Indy 500, we explore the art of the pit stop and what makes it so crucial to a team’s success.
Practice, practice, practice
During the pre-season, pit crews from the various Indy 500 teams spend a lot of time practicing pit stops on specially designated cars. Every practice session is an opportunity to carefully choreograph the team’s actions during a pit stop. It is these training sessions that enable teams to make pit stops look so seamless. When they’re not busy perfecting their pit stops, the crew works on fitness. They take part in performance programs with full-time trainers and pit stop coaches. They also playback their practice routines on video, analyzing the data and timings to see where they could do better. Indy 500 pit stops might only take a few seconds but you need to be both mentally and physically prepared to handle the intensity of a race and be inch perfect during the moments that count.
Pulling out all the stops
Pit stops are a delicate dance between drivers and crews. When you get them right, pit stops present opportunities to gain a competitive edge over other teams. For example, a team might opt for a different tire compound or a tank with less fuel to lighten the car. Adjusting the car’s setup during a pit stop can also improve performance or address handling issues. Teams comb through the data and communicate with the driver to make informed decisions and gain any potential advantage they can. Pit stops can also provide a mental boost to the driver. A fast and efficient pit stop can give the driver a sense of confidence and momentum, which can translate into improved performance on the track.
The anatomy of an Indy 500 pit stop
The pit crew: The crews are made up of specialized team members, each with specific roles and responsibilities. They typically include a fueler, tire changers, a jack operator, a wing adjuster, and a team manager, among others. Each team member has a specific task to perform in a coordinated effort to service the car quickly and efficiently.
The pit box: This is the central location where the team sets up for the pit stop. The box is located on the pit wall and is where the fuel is stored, the equipment is stored, and the team manager communicates with the driver. The pit box is designed to be easily accessible to the crew, and everything is laid out in a specific order to ensure a smooth and efficient pit stop.
The pit wall: The area where the crew stands during the race, where they can monitor the car’s progress and prepare for the pit stop. The pit wall is also where the team manager stands, communicating with the driver and overseeing the pit stop. The pit wall is strategically positioned, giving the team the clearest view of the track and the cars.
The art of an Indy 500 pit stop
Approaching the pit lane: The driver enters the pit lane, slowing down to pit lane speed, and steering towards the team’s pit box. The team is then in position, ready to service the car.
Refueling and tire changes: The fueler attaches the fuel nozzle to the car and begins refueling, while the tire changers change the tires. Teams aim to complete the refueling and tire changes in under five seconds.
Adjustments and repairs: After the fuel and tire changes are completed, the team may make any necessary adjustments or repairs. They may change the car’s wing angle, for example, or fix any damage caused on track.
Rejoining the race: Once the car is serviced, the driver releases the clutch and accelerates out of the pit box onto the pit lane. The team is still in position, signaling to their driver and giving them the thumbs up to rejoin the race.
Timing the pit stop: The timing of a pit stop is crucial. An ideal Indy 500 pit stop time is about 7 seconds. Teams aim to complete pit stops as quickly as possible, but they also strategically time their pit stops to gain a competitive advantage. For example, a team might pit earlier than their competitors to gain track position.
TAG Heuer is the Official Timekeeper of the Indianapolis 500.