|The passenger side cockpit window|
made its road course debut
PHOTO: Brock Beard
At Sonoma, where clear skies and hot temperatures are the norm, teams often removed the passenger-side window while the cars were sitting in the garage or in line at inspection. On race morning, teams had the window sitting perpendicular in the opening, and were only fixed into place just before teams rolled off. Once they did, drivers found the heat just about unbearable.
During an interview with Parker Kligerman following his 30th-place finish Sunday, he raised the issue as he reviewed the race itself. “It was hot – very hot,” he said. “The right-side window, I don’t know why we did that. But it has made it atrociously hot.”
While all teams are dealing with the oppressive heat, small teams are hit the hardest. Kligerman drives for Gaunt Brothers Racing, a part-time effort that has made just thirty Cup starts these last three seasons. As an “open team” without a guaranteed starting spot or larger share of the purse, the #96 team has limited resources. Primary sponsorship has come from only Toyota itself, the team’s manufacturer, and only for part of the team’s limited run. This has had an “unintended,” but serious consequence, as Kligerman explained:
“. . .The big teams are now running cool suits, and for smaller teams, it’s a huge investment. And secondly, it’s a huge undertaking to take care of it. So, it’s an 11,000 or 15,000 dollar thing, and you have to have someone who takes care of it and washes it, and if it goes wrong – so, you just handed the big teams another thing the smaller teams can’t keep up with.”
Unable to afford a proper cool suit, nor the expensive maintenance required, small teams are forced to resort to little more than ice packs and whatever cold drinks the crew can give to their drivers. But the Cup race at Sonoma has traditionally required few pit stops, and in recent years has seen few cautions, particularly in Stage 3. Sunday’s race saw no cautions other than the two stage breaks, ending with a 46-lap grind to the finish on the return of Sonoma’s longer, slower 2.52-mile configuration. As if that wasn’t enough, the new aero package gave cars a serious push, meaning drivers had to fight even harder to wrestle cars around the track.
“We were really really tight, and we couldn’t get the drive off,” said Kligerman. “If we loosened it up to be able to turn, we wouldn’t get the drive off, and when we were tight enough to have drive off, we couldn’t turn. So, I think the new aero package kind of threw us for a loop a little bit.”
The effects were immediate, and weren’t felt only by Kligerman. Both Rick Ware Racing drivers J.J. Yeley and Cody Ware struggled with the heat. While in the garage for a fuel pump issue past the halfway point, Yeley sat in a folding chair away from his car, visibly exhausted. He’d been handed ice packs at the start of the race, but they’d lost all effect by Lap 21. Fortunately, the fuel pump issue required multiple pit stops to reset the car’s computer, allowing Yeley to receive more relief. He was handed two large bags of ice during our brief interview in the garage, and was drinking whatever he could get.
A few minutes later, after logging 64 of the 90 laps, Cody Ware pulled the #52 into the garage, stopping behind the team’s hauler across from Yeley. He was helped from the car and sat next it, where he was promptly attended to by his crew. Ice bags were applied, and a damp cloth for his head. His father Rick said he was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, and track medical staff was summoned to treat him on-site. Ware was conscious as he was being treated, and the team later reported he had recovered and was in good health.
When asked about what small teams could do to fight the heat, he shook his head. “[Ice packs]. That’s all I can do. You know what, for us, I could get one of those [cool suits], it’s just upkeep of it is hard and it just seems like it would be a problem. And then we’re probably looking at getting one of those air bags that the guys used to run, but I just don’t know why at short tracks and these tracks [road courses] we went to the right-side windows, I don’t understand it.”