Wave of optimism sweeping Richard Petty Motorsports
Like many teams, the offseason was one full of change for Richard Petty Motorsports. The two-car organization added former Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr. to its Sprint Cup Series lineup, but perhaps more importantly, the team moved back to its old shop in Mooresville, North Carolina.
With no offseason testing, the team was able to concentrate its efforts transitioning from the 40,000-square-foot shop located adjacent to Roush Fenway Racing’s shop in Concord, North Carolina, to the larger 80,000-square-foot facility located in Mooresville.
While relocating to a different shop may not seem like a major deal, the move has opened up more space for RPM and allowed the team to hire 35 additional personnel, as well as start to build its own bodies and eventually its own chassis.
Team co-owner Richard Petty says that up to this point, his organization has been dependent on help from Roush Fenway Racing for bodies, chassis and technology. Due to the limited space of the old RPM facility, the team simply did not have the room to build its own equipment.
But with the move back to its old shop, the team is already building new bodies and should be have its own chassis built by the middle of the season. For the opening months of the 2015 season, RPM will still use chassis provided by Roush Fenway Racing.
In addition to changing facilities, RPM has also changed how the organization functions internally. No longer does the team operate as one organization with two cars. The new mentality is one team that builds two cars with two drivers.
Part of that change includes an open-office environment for crew chiefs, car chiefs and engineers. By eliminating individual offices and grouping everyone into one work environment, ideas are being shared more widely, and communication has increased across the board.
Sammy Johns, director of competition at RPM, indicated the team has wanted to work under this model in the past, but its previous shop limited ability to do so with two Sprint Cup Series cars and an Xfinity Series team packed into a 40,000-square-foot facility.
"I think this model has shown you can win championships with it," said Johns. "There are other organizations out there working under these type of models that have been able to win championships."
The open-office system is one that crew chief Trent Owens worked under at Turner Scott Motorsports.
"It working pretty good," said Owens. "It just keeps the communication between teams a lot more open. If I’ve got a question for one of the engineers, I can just talk across my desk. It’s not like I have to get up or send an email."
Owens admits it may be difficult to understand how important this change is to the overall success of the organization, but in implementing it the team has saved time and increased communication across the board.
"It just really opens up the conversation among the teams, and I really like it," he said.
Keeping with the one-team mentality, Johns said the organization has eliminated team-specific jobs and moved toward a more task-specific approach for their employees in the shop.
This move has allowed the team to make better use of limited resources and put its efforts behind things that need to be addressed, such as improved performance.
"It works great," said Drew Blickensderfer, crew chief for Hornish’s No. 9 Ford. "The mechanics that build the race cars, we were able to streamline them personnel-wise, so we’ve got less people building the cars, and they’re assembled the same way. We can take those people and man-hours and put them into another area that will improve performance.
"There’s a lot of things that go together when you’re building race cars," he said. "We all build them as light as we can, and as efficiently as we can, but if we can have five guys that can build two race cars the same, instead of having eight guys that are building them differently, you can take those three man-hours and salaries, and put them directly into performance, and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to spend the money where performance was going to be changed versus areas of just assembling race cars. It allowed us to focus on areas that we think we need to focus on to improve."
One area the team hopes to improve is overall consistency on the oval tracks that make up the majority of the Sprint Cup schedule. With the addition of Hornish, the hope is his previous experience from IndyCar, the Xfinity Series and the Sprint Cup Series will help take the organization to the next level.
"I think Sam brings a lot of versatility to us," said Petty. "Where Marcos was so good on the road courses, he never really got the hang of it. He had good races and bad races, good times and bad times. I think Sam’s going to be much more consistent."
Petty also indicated that during tests last season, Hornish and teammate Aric Almirola felt similar things from their cars, something that never really happened during Ambrose’s time with the team.
Almirola, who helped the No. 43 return to Victory Lane in 2014, echoes his team owner’s thoughts, saying Hornish’s oval experience will help the organization as a whole.
"The biggest thing Sam brings is just a vast amount of experience racing on ovals that Marcos didn’t have," said Almirola, who added that Hornish is also a top-notch road-course racer. "Sam just has a lot of experience on ovals. All the IndyCar stuff he did was mostly on ovals. He grew up racing go-karts a lot on ovals. Obviously he has a lot of experience in the Cup Series and (Xfinity) Series racing over the last several years racing for Penske and Gibbs."
Not only does Hornish bring more oval experience to the table, but Almirola believes the fact he has worked with "Tier 1" race teams like Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing allows Richard Petty Motorsports to use what he has learned and incorporate it into RPM’s organization.
Having run his last full-time season in 2010, Hornish knows he has to adjust to the Sprint Cup Series once again, but is eager to get on the track.
"It’s a lot different than when I did it the last time," Hornish said. "I feel like we’ve got a lot of things to look forward to. The only thing we’re lacking right now is we still need to sit down and set out a map of what we feel comfortable with throughout the year, what our goals will be and figuring out how we’re going to change and evaluate ourselves to move forward."
Team CEO Brian Moffitt confirmed Hornish would run the No. 9 Ford full-time for the 2015 season, with Twisted Tea on board for both Daytona races. Moffitt indicated the team has other partners that will come on board the No. 9 car later in the year.