Race Engineer Mike Colliver has worked with AJ Foyt Racing on and off since 2008 when Darren Manning drove the No. 14 and registered his career-best finish of second at Watkins Glen. Colliver came on board this year as race engineer for Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais and to assist Dalton Kellett’s race engineer Daniele Cucchiaroni. Colliver has worked both sides of the pit wall, first working as a mechanic and tire changer before utilizing his engineering background. Before entering racing fulltime, he received some patents from his previous career as a bio-medical engineer. We asked him a few questions…
Q: How did you get involved in motorsports as a career?
MC: “I was always a big fan of IndyCar racing. I started racing Formula Fords w/ Skip Barber Racing series and some SCCA Formula continentals after college. Realizing I didn’t have the money to “make it” (and probably not the talent) as a driver, I quit my “real” job and went to work as an entry level mechanic at the Skip Barber racing school. Pay was horrible, hours long, but I got some free “seat time” in the cars and got my foot in the racing door.”
Q: What is your educational background?
MC: “Graduated from Purdue with a degree in Bio-medical engineering. Worked for six years in the medical engineering field, mostly in the cardiovascular area (angioplasty
and stent development). Received a few patents along the way and moved into mid-level management before making the leap to racing. I went from a 6-figure job in the spring of 1994 to $12K as a mechanic. Was single and put my belongings in a storage locker and moved to Lime Rock, Conn. Then to Sebring, Fla. that winter. Worked as a mechanic for four years before Treadway Racing gave me a shot as a junior engineer in 1999 under ‘Dr. Who’ (Tim Wardrop who was Luyendyk’s engineer on his 237 Indy record lap). Parents were very supportive even though they thought I was crazy….but it was my childhood dream! So to have worked and met guys who were my heroes like Al Jr, Arie, Pancho, Sneva, Big Al, and obviously A.J. is just very cool.”
Colliver eventually did get married in 2007. He is pictured here with his family: wife Angela and their son Taylor and daughter Thessaly.
Q: What was the first race you attended in person?
MC: “Probably a sprint car race at Eldora or Winchester in the mid-sixties before I can remember. I do remember being at many short tracks watching USAC sprints and the Hoosier Hundred (including seeing AJ) and Indy Qualifying at ages 4-5ish.”
Q: What was the first Indy 500 you attended in person?
MC: “I remember listening to 500s in the early seventies, then the first year I attended was ’73. It was the crazy/tragic year that saw several drivers killed [Art Pollard, Swede Savage] or injured [Salt Walther] along with a few days of rain that was eventually finished on a Wednesday–which our family stayed for (my Dad let me play hooky).”
Q: Where have you worked in IndyCar/Indy Lights?
MC: “Since I’m a “consultant/contract engineer” I’ve been fortunate to work with many teams and learn from some of the great engineers and mechanics over the years. Started in 1995 in Indy Lights and also working on Davey Hamilton’s car at Indy that same year….although we missed the race.”
Q: Most memorable moment in racing so far?
MC: “Winning the 1996 Indy 500 w/ith Buddy Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing. I was 2nd mechanic on that car and changed the left rear tire during the race. Pretty nervous on the last stop knowing we had a shot at winning!”
Colliver pictured with Buddy Lazier after winning the 1996 Indy 500.
Q: Focusing on this season, what has been the biggest challenge for you as an engineer this season?
MC: “Adminstratively: coming back to the team and re-learning the tools we use to engineer the cars. At the track: it always takes time for drivers and engineers to get on the same page–terminology, hand/body language, what they want out of the car, how they “feel” its balance etc., then having multiple drivers. Mechanically: figuring out what the car wants with the new aeroscreen. Weighing 60 lbs. and being forward and high, it has significantly changed the weight distribution and center of gravity height of the car.”
Q: What the tools you referred to above?
MC: “All the teams have different software that the engineers use to analyze the data, different setups, shocks etc. Some of the software is commercially available so all teams use the same, and some is developed in house so it’s different for each team. Also all the channel names in the data acquisition software is team specific so it’s re-learning what names Foyt uses compared to Shank or AA etc. Also, the engine manufacturers provide analysis tools for aero, etc. so the stuff we use with a Honda team is different than a Chevy team along with all the naming conventions being different and driver assist items like fuel mix, soft limiter methods, etc.”
Q: Has the aeroscreen had more of an impact on the ovals or the road courses and why?
MC: “Probably a slightly bigger effect on the ovals as the higher the Lateral G force the more affect it has on the handling.”
Q: Has the reduced amount of practice and testing made the playing field more level or less so this year?
MC: “If you have a “good” car to start the weekend it levels the field. But, the doubleheader weekends give the larger teams a bit of an advantage as they can pool the “limited” info quicker and get sorted out for the second race. I think this was evident at Gateway in the second race, as I think every car was running within 0.2s lap times of each other for the majority of the race so, for the most part, cars finished about where they started.”
Q: With the race shortened to 75 laps at Mid-Ohio, how will that affect the race strategy?
MC: “With 90 laps some cars were on 2 stop and some were on 3 stoppers, with 75 laps everyone will be on 2 stop strategy…it’ll just be a matter of whether you come early or late on your first stop. So, it’s a simpler strategy.”
Q: How tough are the doubleheaders on the engineering staff? Is it different for the road courses vs the ovals or does that matter?
MC: “Doubleheaders and impound races are definitely tough on EVERYONE, not just the engineers. Very long days that are “non-stop” from the minute we get to the track until we leave. Both physically and mentally grueling. The engineers then have to go back to the hotel and sift thru the data to make final decisions on setup changes to give to the mechanics the next morning for the second race.
Impound races force the engineer to sometimes come up w/ a “hybrid” setup that is good for both Qualy (short-run) and the race (log-run), or bias in one direction (Q or Race) and basically choose your poison. The shorter weekends are nice however, so its a trade-off. Ovals and road-course are basically the same.”
Q: You (and Daniele) worked with the most experienced driver in the field
and now a rookie. Is your approach to each driver different?
MC: “Approach is always a bit more conservative with Dalton (or any Rookie) and we are likely to make smaller changes to his car. With Tony’s experience we can throw larger changes at him, especially on the ovals where a wrong or bad change might catch a rookie out, but a veteran like Tony can (hopefully) feel it before he knocks the fence down. Normally with a younger driver I like to go back through the changes with them after the session, so they can begin building a mental library of what change “x” normally does or feels like. Then they can help guide the engineer to certain feels they desire in the car in the future.”
Q: What would you consider a successful weekend at Mid-Ohio?
MC: “This series is so tight these days….a few tenths of a second in qualifying is 10 spots…..that’s 12 turns at M-O so your talking less than .02/.03s per corner difference. It would be great to qualify both cars in the top 12 for both races and finish both cars in the top ten. If we can get one in the top five for either race that would be fantastic.”
Q: Heard you enrolled in a sprint car school last fall for fun?
MC: “Actually that was the second one I’ve done. I did the Kenny Wallace one also. It’s a total blast. Gives you HUGE appreciation for what those guys do and did (A.J. etc.). You can really feel the Horsepower and stagger. The Wallace school car had bigger stagger so the car turned when you lifted and when you put the power back on. The Kruseman school car had less stagger and you had to turn the car by jabbing the brake hard on entry (only the left front corner has a brake) so the car would rotate on braking, then when pointed around the corner you’d apply throttle and go. Really have to be careful with throttle application as the cars have 700HP and the rear tires will spin very easily. Very physical working the wheel….my arms got tired and I only ran two 20-lap sessions–by myself! I had raced on pavement road courses before, but dirt is a totally different deal. Car control with throttle……crazy stuff! I had signed up to drive a Rusty Wallace Stock Car School this fall at Salem, Ind. (one of my favorite tracks as a kid – and probably A.J.’s), but it got canceled due to COVID.” [Ed. Note: A.J. credits his running well at Salem as the break that got him into the championship car in 1957.]
CHARLIE KIMBALL returns to Mid-Ohio this season after missing last year due to running a partial season with Carlin Racing. He won in 2013 with Chip Ganassi Racing after starting fifth which is his best start at this track (he also started fifth in 2016 and finished eighth). In seven races, he posted three top-10s. He has started in the top-10 four times.
Kimball on Mid-Ohio: “I’m glad we are able to get the opportunity to race at Mid-Ohio this year, a double header means double the fun around the track which is one of my favorites. I have a lot of confidence in the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet after leaving the last road course at Road America and knowing that will translate into this weekend. Strategically, the 15 lap shorter race adds a wrinkle in the thought process but having won there in 2013 with a healthy dose of strategy the opportunity exists for us to excel.”
Kimball at speed on the last permanent road course he ran – Road America.
DALTON KELLETT will be back in the No. 14 this weekend for the first time since Road America in June. He ran the No. 41 K-Line Insulators USA
Chevrolet in his Indy 500 debut. This will be his fifth NTT IndyCar Series start at a track where he has eight starts in Indy Lights with a best finish of third in Race 1 in 2018 (pictured here).
Kellett: “I am very excited for the double-header at Mid-Ohio and thankful for the efforts of INDYCAR, Savoree-Green, and the State for surmounting the challenges of rescheduling the race. It’s one of my favourite tracks, I love the technical and fast-paced nature of the layout. This weekend will be physically and mentally challenging, for both crew and drivers. It shouldn’t be quite as hot as the Indy GP, but you can’t discount the physical nature of this place. There’s not much time to relax. It will be good to jump back in the No. 14 and continue to work on our road course package. Given the condensed schedule, we’re doing more development, during race weekends, than we might on a typical year. That means it will be important for me to give the engineers accurate feedback in practice, so we can get it right for the race. Every session is an opportunity to learn. Be sure to catch updates on the No. 14 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet on social and the NBC broadcasts Saturday and Sunday!”
Kellett wheels the No. 14 at Road America.
Doubleheader at Mid-Ohio: Although the Indy Lights Series has run doubleheaders at Mid-Ohio, this year is the first time that the NTT INDYCAR Series has as a result the rescheduling due to the pandemic. The races have been shortened from 90-laps to 75 laps each.
The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be broadcast live on the NBC family of networks. Saturday’s race will be broadcast on NBCSN with coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. ET. Sunday’s race will be broadcast on NBC starting at 1 p.m. ET.