Engineered to Win

The 7-post shaker rig is strangely quiet. Only a soft hydraulic whine comes from the four computer-controlled platforms lifting and rocking beneath the race car’s still tires. The car’s suspension shudders and rebounds as the rig simulates the stresses it will undergo next Sunday, roaring full throttle down Kansas Speedway’s long straightaway.

Inside a control booth, engineer Dave Charpentier watches the digital readout on a bank of monitors as the rig puts the car through its paces. The stream of data will help him optimize the suspension setup, making sure the tires stay stuck to the asphalt when the car blasts across imperfections in the speedway at nearly 200 miles per hour this weekend.

When the simulation finishes, Charpentier exits the booth. He grabs a wrench and opens the hood. There are adjustments to be made. “These teams race 36 weekends a year,” Charpentier explains, “and you get a very limited amount of practice time at the racetrack. Maybe two hours before qualifying and another couple hours before the race.”

With no time for trial-and-error, the team has to come to the track prepared. “You have to have a plan going in,” Charpentier says, “and be ready to tune the car to the track conditions that day. Everything from the air temperature to tire wear can impact our performance.” Long hours in the RCR shop will prepare the Grainger team to dial in the ideal setup for the specific weather and track conditions as they develop on race day.

Driver Ryan Newman says all the prep work is worth it. “The smoother the car rides, the better the tires will stick to the track and the faster we’ll be. We run hundreds of simulated laps to determine which setup we should plug into the car at the track. It puts me two steps ahead of the competition before I even get into the car.”

Charpentier is quick to praise the work his team does in the shop. “This is a purely performance-driven business,” he says. “The work we do on a daily basis contributes to our success at the track. It’s extremely dynamic and rewarding, and that’s why I love it.”

Back in the shop, Charpentier’s team surrounds the car, making minute adjustments to the setup. They stiffen the preloads and tighten the sway bar. When they're finished, the rig shakes to life, ready to simulate another high speed run. Charpentier heads back to the booth, searching for an edge.