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Teams' portable garage gone in blink of an eye

Crews can pack race equipment, including car, into a specially outfitted trailer in an hour or two.

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Driver Oriol Servia was done for the day, but by the time he had finished 12th in Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the rest of his Patrick Racing team was ready to hit the road.

The team's portable garage -- which, like everyone else's in the Champ Car series, is housed in one or more specially outfitted 18-wheelers -- was packed and ready to head back to Indianapolis. The area that had served as the team's well-stocked garage since Thursday was back to usual, a bare patch of concrete outside the Bayfront Center.

Mark Giuffre, one of Patrick Racing's lead mechanics, and another crew member had spent the two-hour race packing up gear, rolling up the tarp, stowing the tent poles and pulling up the floor covering. About the only thing left to do was to load Servia's car into the loft on top of the truck's trailer and shut the door.

Then it would be time for Giuffre and the other lucky ones to board an airplane. The unlucky ones were the two crew members who were to stay behind with the trailer and spend the next two days driving it to Indianapolis, probably through a forecasted snowstorm.

"(Driving the trailer) is the most thankless, underestimated job in the business," Giuffre said.

If it seems almost like magic that multiple cars, an entire garage and everything needed to get one or more drivers through a Champ Car race somehow appears at venue after venue, well, it is. Or at the very least, it's the wizardry of organization.

Not an inch is spared in the 18-wheelers, which store not just the cars, tent structure and tools but also bicycles and other vehicles the crew uses to get around a venue. A little room is left over for a kitchenette and office space. At the end of the race, most of the energy is expended not on the cars themselves but on breaking down the garage and getting everything home.

The cars will be examined later, usually in the middle of the week at headquarters, where they will be tested and examined to see what worked and what didn't. With few exceptions, they get just a little attention postrace, the most important step being the "pickling" of the engine, where the remaining methanol in the engine -- which can cause damage if left there for long periods -- is replaced by gasoline.

Race tires are replaced by transport tires, though Sunday that wasn't the only thing in store for Ryan Hunter-Reay's crashed car. His entire right front wheel was removed, along with part of the axel, because the mangled wheel was keeping the car from fitting into the loft. An hour after the race, the garage for Newman/Haas Racing's four cars and two drivers was still nearly intact. But that didn't last long. It took about a half-hour for a dozen crew members to break down the entire setup, packing it all -- cars, tires, tents, rubber flooring, hydrogen tanks, boxes and boxes of tools -- into three 18-wheelers. It was easily one of the largest setups at the track, but Pedro Campuzano, one of the team's two chief mechanics, said the crew couldn't imagine trying to live with less space.

"It's like having a house," Campuzano said. "The longer you're there, the more stuff you get."

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