Notes & Quotes: Big Machine Music City Grand Prix
Jeremy Villarde, born and raised in Chicago, earned a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago before joining AJ Foyt Racing this year. Mentored by shock engineer Warren Wilson, Villarde works on the shocks (aka dampers) for both cars. He is also the inside rear tire changer on the No. 55 Sexton Properties Chevrolet. We asked him a few questions...
How did you become interested in motorsports?
JV: "I have always had an interest in vehicles because of the way all the various subsystems have to come together to function as one machine. In college I took part in Formula SAE and had the opportunity to take a deep dive into everything from fabrication to suspension design of a formula style race car for competition. From then on, I knew I wanted to work for motorsports in one way or another. I got my first taste of it working for AMS Performance as an R&D Engineer designing things like intake systems and transmission braces to improve the performance of our race cars. But when the opportunity came up to be part of AJ Foyt Racing, I jumped on it immediately."
What was the first race you attended?
JV: "August 2018 IMSA Sports Car Championship at Road America. I was hooked being able to get up close to all the teams in the paddocks and seeing those cars fly down that awesome track!"
Have you ever raced cars yourself?
JV: "Unfortunately, I have not but I'd love to one day! "
When did you start your career as an engineer in racing?
JV: "As an R&D Engineer at AMS performance I would design systems used in racing. But, this is my first year being part of an actual racing series this season. Hopefully first of many to come. "
What is your most significant achievement to date?
JV: "Getting third place at the Indy 500 of course."
How did you come to work for AJ Foyt Racing?
JV: "Late last year my friend from college Tim Kuschel (who joined the team in 2021) informed me of a potential position on the team for this current season. After a few conversations with Larry Foyt, I must have fit the bill."
How do inerter shocks work? How do they differ from hydraulic shocks?
JV: "Inerters come in all sorts of designs from ball screw shafts to hydraulic gears and weight. The inerter is not a shock itself but an add-on that works in conjunction with the hydraulic damper. The inerter stores energy from the vehicle’s suspension travel and working with the hydraulic damper and spring, it controls the vehicle oscillations to improve the mechanical grip of the race car."
Is it easy to adjust the compression and rebound on the inerter shocks?
JV: "The dampers have external adjusters for compression and rebound which are quite easy to adjust."
Can you monitor the oscillations that the suspension generates going over the bumps and tune the shocks to lessen the bumps' effects on the car and keep the tires in contact with the track surface?
JV: "Of course, the cars have sensors for suspension travel and loads and are always being monitored. We even have the ability to replay tracks on our shock dyno using the data collected to really fine tune our dampers."
What are the biggest challenges of working in the INDYCAR Series?
JV: "I’d say it is the biggest challenge is being able to adapt quickly and efficiently. We don’t have much practice time before the races, and everything has to go just right."
Villarde changes the inside rear tire during a stop at Iowa Speedway.
What do you enjoy most about working in the INDYCAR Series?
JV: "It is awesome being a part of a team of people who are all amazing at their jobs. This really pushes me to learn all I can and hone my skills. Also, being part of the pit crew (inside rear), is exhilarating being so close to the action. Of course, traveling and being a part of such a select group of people makes me proud to do what I do every day."
What interests do you have outside of racing? How do you spend your spare time?
JV: "I love to learn and tinker. I have about a billion projects (all unfinished) from a mid-engine tube chassis car that I have been designing to a CNC control box. When I get time outside of work, I like to go rock climbing, ride my motorcycle, and hang out outdoors biking, hiking, and camping when I can."
Villarde enjoys riding his motorcycle and camping in his spare time.
SANTINO FERRUCCI will be making his second start in Nashville (the first coming in 2021) and 56th start in the NTT INDYCAR Series.
"I would say the key to getting around Nashville is being able to hit your marks, and be consistent like on every street course. The thing with Nashville is you also have to drive a very uncomfortable race car to go fast, that meaning it’s a very bumpy track and you have to be comfortable with being shook at 180 miles an hour consistently."
"I have to say the best thing about the track is going over the bridge and into actual downtown Nashville. That definitely is the Staple."
"The one thing that I definitely love about Nashville other than the race is when I’ve vacationed there, they have every type of music and way to enjoy the city for everybody in every culture. I’m not a huge country fan but I’m a huge rock fan--especially from the '80s--and you can go to awesome bars for live rock music."
Ferrucci Fast Facts: Age 25...Born in Woodbury, CT...Lives in Dallas, Texas...Began racing karts at age 5, moved to cars in 2013...Competed in Formula 2000, British Formula 3, GP3 finishing third at Spa Francorchamps as a rookie, was development driver for Haas F1 team for three years (2016-2018), moved to Formula 2 in 2018...made his INDYCAR debut in Detroit in 2018...moved to NTT INDYCAR Series fulltime in 2019 finishing 13th in standings for Dale Coyne and won Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing seventh...13th in standings again with fourth place finish in the 500...drove part-time in 2021-22 but maintained top-10 streak in Indy 500 with finishes of sixth (RLL Racing) and 10th (Dreyer Reinbold Racing)...Scored best finish to date this year with his 3rd place finish in the Indianapolis 500...Competed part-time in NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021-22.
BENJAMIN PEDERSEN will be making his first start at Nashville in an Indy car and his 13th start in
the NTT INDYCAR Series. He competed at the street circuit last year in the Indy NXT Series where he started and finished sixth.
"Last year we were really fast in Nashville when I was running in the Indy NXT Series. We were the fastest in both practice sessions but were not able to qualify and had to start based on points due to the weather. We had a lot of potential for a great finish there, but without the chance to qualify, and little passing, a lot of the field finished where they started."
"The key to Nashville is having a package for the car that can allow it to turn really well in the low-speed corners and a car that is very compliant over bumps. I have been preparing by doing a lot of heat training, along with my normal training and sim time."
"Nashville is a very cool town to race in. The atmosphere is amazing, you can feel the energy from the people, which makes it a special place. There is a lot to offer in Nashville, it's one of the most popular cities in America with the number of venues and places for people to visit, so I am looking forward to getting there and on track in just a few days."
Pedersen Fast Facts: Age 24...Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, moved to Seattle at age 4 and is now living in Indianapolis...Began racing karts at a young age and has competed and won races in the INDY NXT by Firestone Series, British Formula 3, FR Americas Championship, F4 US Championship...Earned Rookie of the Year award in the Indianapolis 500 after setting a record for the fastest qualifying lap by a rookie (233.297mph). Enjoys golf, pickleball, skiing, soccer, snowmobiling, mountain biking, dirt biking.
Past Performance at Nashville: In his only Nashville start in 2021, Santino Ferrucci started 17th and finished 11th. Pedersen is making his first start at Nashville in an Indy car. In Indy NXT, he started according to the points when qualifying was rained out. He started and finished sixth. Foyt Racing's best start is 12th with Dalton Kellett and its best finish is 19th with Kyle Kirkwood, who was taken out in a crash with David Malukas while vying for seventh position.
Last Race: At Iowa Speedway, Ferrucci started 27th and finished 22nd. Pedersen started 28th and placed 27th.
The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will be broadcast live on NBC Sunday at 12 noon ET. The practices on Friday and Saturday along with qualifying will be streamed live on Peacock.