Watkins Glen – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was busy sawing on his steering wheel at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, trying to race to what he hoped would be a rewarding finish in the NASCAR Cup Series Cheez-It 355 At The Glen.
At the same time, his race engineer, North Tonawanda native Brian Ivancic, was equally as occupied, dancing his fingers across the keyboard of his laptop computer throughout the first half of the 90-lap affair in search of valuable information. Ivancic is an engineer with the Roush-Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion driven by Stenhouse.
Unfortunately, while running mid-pack, the No. 17 team’s day came to a sudden, cruel and grinding end with 38 circuits remaining when Stenhouse was involved in a serious crash in which he emerged uninjured with a 38th-place finish.
While disappointing for the team, the wreck should not diminish the very positive contributions made to the team by Ivancic this weekend or, for that matter, these last few seasons.
Throughout Sunday’s early action, Ivancic sat atop the team’s pit box collecting, entering and analyzing data that he hoped would improve the performance of the No. 17 machine. Sunday started out to be quite a challenge due to the fact that Stenhouse began the race in 30th position.
Everything seemed on schedule for a solid finish Sunday moments before the accident. Moments after the wreck, Ivancic climbed down off the pit box and spoke about the day that ended all too short for his team.
“Luckily for Ricky, it was just all good driver adjustment,” said Ivancic of their race prior to the wreck. “He was making good progress and I think our strategy got him a couple spots. We just had a tough break on pit road and that put us back. We chose to come to pit road at the same time the car in front of us and the car behind us came. It made it really difficult.
“I don’t look forward to these kind of days when it ends up like this, but it happens. Now it’s back to the shop and we’ll be back next week.”
Stenhouse entered Sunday’s race 19th in the Cup Series standings. Following Sunday’s early exit, he leaves The Glen in 20th place in the rankings.
While busy with his team prepping the car in the garage area Sunday morning, Ivancic explained what his typical duties would entail during Sunday’s race.
“During the race, I will be on my laptop,” said Ivancic. “Being a road course here, fuel mileage will be important, among other things. I will use a laptop and a lot of the information will come from our Ford trailer in the center of the track.
“I have lots of databases to look at and simulation tools. Anything that will give us that little bit extra edge.
Ivancic has come a long way since leaving the Western New York area. That path even included trips through Europe.
“I went to high school at North Tonawanda,” said Ivancic, 27. “I then went to the University of Buffalo to get my graduate degree. I graduated from the University of Buffalo in 2011. Then I did a couple years overseas with motorsports and auto racing, mainly sports cars.”
Then it was on to the NASCAR big leagues for Ivancic.
“This is my fourth season at Roush-Fenway Racing,” said Ivancic. “I was an engineer at the shop for three years and this is my first year on the road. I’m at the shop every day during the week and then I come out here on the road Thursday through Sunday.”
Fellow North Tonawanda native Tim Duerr was at The Glen all weekend. Duerr is the Motorsports Marketing Manager with Ford Performance. He says that Ford has really stepped up its race engineering program, which includes Ivancic.
“Engineering is a tremendous focus that we have in motorsports,” said Duerr, who works out of the Ford offices in Dearborn, Mich. “In fact we’ve taken a new focus. We’ve changed our name to Ford Performance and in doing so, we’ve really upped our game from an engineering and development standpoint. We’ve actually created a new tech center in Concord (N.C.) right behind the NASCAR R&D center. We’ve staffed it with additional race engineers that came from product development at Ford.
“So we’re doing a lot of sharing right now. Things that we learn on the track go into our production vehicles. Things that we learn in production vehicles such as lightweight aerodynamics, things that we can pick up we then bring on to the race teams.”
The group that works on the NASCAR program has expanded from eight to 23 people.
“We’ve even invested in an aircraft-type simulator that has been a tremendous assist to our NASCAR drivers,” Duerr said. “With testing being limited now in the sport, this gives them an opportunity to get into a simulator and drive tracks likes Watkins Glen, and it’s almost perfectly replicated.
“We’ve won here many times in the last few years at The Glen and I love coming back here. It’s my home track since I grew up in North Tonawanda.”
Ivancic now resides in the Charlotte area with his wife, Heather. During a rare NASCAR Cup Series off weekend next week, Ivancic is planning to return to Western New York to see family.
“Last year, I went back home during this weekend and got to see my parents,” said Ivancic. “This weekend a couple of my friends are here. I plan to be back in Buffalo next week.”
Dareus goes for a ride
Buffalo Bills defensive end Marcell Dareus attended the activities here Sunday and got a ride in the pace car with NASCAR pace car driver Brett Bodine.
“I’m a big guy but he had me a little scared,” laughed Dareus. “I’m surprised his little Toyota pace car handled all my weight.”