Don Halliday – Chief Engineer
As chief engineer of the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team, Don Halliday was a key factor in the team returning to victory lane for the first time in over 10 years. Takuma Sato’s drive to the Long Beach Grand Prix victory circle was followed up by a spirited drive in Brazil where he finished second, vaulting the team into the IndyCar Series point lead.
A mid-season slump took the team out of contention for the championship but by the Houston Grand Prix, Sato won the pole—the first for the team since 1999. The goal this year is to be more consistent with the strong performances, which Halliday believes will happen as they enter their second year of working together.
“As you work more with a driver the relationship becomes almost like a marriage,” Halliday explained. “Understanding grows between driver and engineer and the engineer learns to interpret even subtle non verbal clues related to the driver’s experience of the car. That is how it was when I was engineer for Dario [Franchitti] and Kenny [Brack] in the past. Our task is to keep up with making positive changes soon enough to continue to be competitive.”
Halliday enjoys working with Sato whose longtime philosophy is ‘No Attack, No Chance.’ Smiling, Halliday adds, “I think our task will be to go through each weekend at 99.5% and not have sections where he is at 100.5%!” But he agrees with team owner Foyt that it is easier to slow down a driver than it is to speed him up.
The winter was spent testing at courses in Florida (Sebring and Homestead) and as far west as Sonoma, Calif. Shaker rig testing and wind tunnel tests were also conducted.
“This winter we spent the time testing and analyzing the data, refining where we thought we were at and trying to improve on our weakness which was the permanent road courses. We are continuing to refine our processes,” Halliday said.
Working with the family patriarch has proven challenging to some engineers but Halliday appears to have found a way to relate to Foyt. “I love A.J.’s passion,” he revealed, “and I feel we have a real good team feeling which probably comes from his son Larry’s very calm demeanor and the introduction of ‘honest respectful communication’.”
Foyt missed 11 of 19 races last year due to surgery on his back in April and a hip replacement in July. When asked about the impact of Foyt’s absence, Halliday replied, “Early on it was good to have A.J. around to bounce ideas off. A.J. has a wealth of knowledge and experience: he has a perspective about where you’re at and what you might have to do, so that was good. When he was out of the game, that was missing. However, number one in life is to be healthy so he just needed to recover and get back to the team, which he has. With the passion that he brings, it’s always fun. We have a good old laugh.”
Halliday’s strong work ethic is a characteristic that appeals to team owner A.J. Foyt.
“Don Halliday has made a big contribution to our team,” said Foyt. “Don is really smart, and he never quits. He is constantly working, trying to get better and that’s one of the things that I admire about him.”
In 2012, Halliday took on the challenge of sorting out the brand new Dallara chassis—in fact it was the motivating factor for his return to the IZOD IndyCar Series after a seven-year absence.
“It’s what I’ve always been used to from working in Formula 1 and through designing Indy cars as well – design has always fascinated me,” said the New Zealand native who has been a U.S. citizen for a number of years.
In 2014, Honda-powered teams will be running a Honda twin turbo for the first time. Addressing the challenges of switching from a single turbo to a twin turbo, Halliday said, “The weight is slightly different and it is in different places. This car is sensitive so that’s going to add to that learning curve, (or re-learning), but in terms of its response, we’ll soon see what the improvement is like at the top end. The switch to the twin turbo and development of the engine is very much in the hands of the Honda engineers, and so as they are diligently working this route, I move on with what we have to do. We both try to do the best we can do.”
No one is better prepared to do that than Halliday, whose open wheel resume dates back to the late ‘70s, working with the Bruce McLaren Formula One team before moving on to Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team in 1983-1984. He moved to Indy car racing in 1985 with Maury Kraines’ Kraco team, then spent 1987-1988 in European Formula 3000 before returning to Indy cars for good in 1989. During the 1990s and early 2000s, he enjoyed success with some of the top teams and drivers in the CART Indy Car series including Truesports (with driver Scott Pruett), Tasman (with driver Andre Ribeiro), Team Kool Green (with drivers Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy), and Team Rahal (with driver Kenny Brack). He has designed race-winning Indy cars in his career that began in the 1970s in his native New Zealand. In 1977, he designed, built and drove his Formula Vee race car to the New Zealand championship.
Halliday’s return to the IndyCar Series in 2011 followed a productive entrepreneurial period for his automotive engineering company Halliday Technologies Inc. which he founded in 1994. Halliday Technologies Inc. holds several patented designs in auto safety related areas, including the Real Time Traction Tool (RT3) an FAA accredited piece of equipment – this is a breakthrough technology that measures friction of road and runway surfaces. This technology has been used in auto racing and by Firestone in the development of race tires.
Halliday also designed a military vehicle using DMACS technology which vents the blast from an IED through the vehicle providing enhanced protection for the war fighter. He holds several patents for this technology which has proven, in simulation and live blast testing, to reduce the accelerations on the occupants by over 70%.
“I’ve become a bit of an inventor,” he acknowledges.